Gackles, cardinals, finches, sparrows and robins flocked to the backyard that held each one’s special mix of bird food year round. Most of the neighbors kept their feeders supplied in the winter, but didn’t think they needed to in the summer. Spring and fall contained lots of berries and rains made lots of puddles for thirsty birds. But George, the celebrated birdman of Grandview, knew better and continued to keep his feeders supplied year round.
One day he left to go to his 50th high school reunion. There he met the girl of his dreams, Marian, the one whom he had been too shy to speak to when he was in the 4th grade. Yet, there she was, so many years later. He couldn’t believe it. George’s romance began to take him away from home for longer and longer periods of time. The feeder food and birdbath water began to subside and he was hard pressed to keep them full in between his absences.
Once when he was breakfasting, he glanced out the window to see a gackle perched and peering into his back porch window. Cocking its head, it opened its beak and made sounds which George could not hear through the patio door. Watching the bird closely, he noticed it was flying back and forth rapidly from the feeder, the bird bath and the back porch swing. In between its stops, it would peer at him more and more, almost like a glare at times, and futilely move its beak as if praying for some message to get through.
George finally went outside and noticed the bird bath was a little low. He filled it and yet the birds continued to flock back and forth, chirping their instructions. It was now September and the winds were getting colder. George bundled up his blue flannel shirt tighter and looked at the clouds racing across the sky. His bird companions continued to flutter and were now perched on the birdbath but not drinking. Instead, they seemed to be eyeing George and dipping a talon tenatively in the bath.
George wondered what this unusual behavior could mean but filled the bath again. Again, the birds took turns perching and dipping but not ever depleting the supply of water. Suddenly, a fly, boxelder bug, and a spider crawled out from under a corner of the Adriondack chair next to the birdbath and three birds each dove and picked one up in its beak. They gingerly placed the insects in the birdbath and watched them swim around, yet they did not try to eat them.
Shaking his head, George went back to his Laz-y-Boy recliner to watch his Nature channel show. The urgent spokesman came on and George was about to turn him off when George found he was advertising an appliance he had looked for a long time and had not found: an electric birdbath warmer. He could hardly believe his ears and eyes because it had been over a year since he had seen one advertised but he had misplaced the catalog with it advertised in it (he often forgot things if he slept in between times). Now, here was his second chance. He whipped out his credit card, dialed the number, and ordered it lickety split. He paid the express surcharge since the winds were now getting stiff and the temperature dropping. The birds were observing the transaction from their perches on the back porch.
The next day the electric warmer arrived and George could hardly wait to get it installed. The birds watched with interest and George stepped back to admire his work. It wasn’t but a few minutes, though, until he noticed the birds were catching more flies, spiders, and bugs for the birdbath. One even caught a grasshopper. George just shook his head and went to bed, but not before he called Marian , who didn’t have an explanation for the birds’ strange behavior either.
The next morning he sat on the porch enjoying the crisp air, the sunrise, and coffee in his favorite cup and watching his cat, Little Orphan Annie, playing with her ball of string. He noticed how much smaller the ball was than yesterday and this fact gave him pause, but, again, he had slept since then. A raucous chorus of bird cries drew his attention. Turning to the birdbath, he couldn’t believe his eyes. The heated birdbath water was steaming and swirling in a miniature hot tub as the insects tied to the center swam around and around. The gackle had tied a piece of string to the grasshopper and was hopping in and out of the foam. The sparrow was soaking its feet in the water next to the cardinal, who was just taking off his sunglasses. The robin was drying his wing on a towel and oiling its wings. But worst of all the finch was water skiing by following the fly and spider around the birdbath as they pulled him as fast as they wanted to escape.
George blinked but it was all true. The bird spa and resort was fully operational and migrations were coming in from the north. Soon, he couldn’t see his back porch, but he wasn’t afraid. These were his friends and, after all, he was the celebrated Birdman of Grandview. He went down to his woodshop and began making the frame for the beach canopy.
© September 15, 2002 Shirley A Fessel