Jeremy Rix would frown at this. He is the councilman who, in an effort to combat neighborhood rodents of the long tail variety, introduced the ordinance that now makes it an offense to spread birdseed in your yard. Seed is restricted to a feeder, or you could face a fine.
But what’s a homeowner to do when a cardinal, which are usually recluse, looks to you for a handout of sunflower seeds?
The cardinal and his less colorful mate befriended us during the winter months. They were typically the last of the birds to the feeder and hence were dealt the short end of the stick. They’d forage what seeds had fallen and not been scooped up by the squirrels and an array of feathered companions. The pair was skittish, flitting away as soon as we appeared at the kitchen door.
This annoyed Carol. Cardinals weren’t getting their fair share and she was going to do something about it. I questioned how this might work and I watched skeptically when she threw a handful of seeds away from the feeder. The squirrels aren’t dopes. They had it figured out in no time. The cardinals were quick learners, too.
The male would sit in the branches and wait for us to break the Rix ordinance and then call for his mate when the coast was clear.
In fact, as has become the routine as soon as we made an early morning or evening appearance at the back porch, he betrayed his position with a succession of clicks requesting breakfast or dinner.
“There he is,” Carol said excitedly to the sudden red flicker. She’d snatch a few seeds from the container inside the kitchen door and drop them on the porch. As soon as we were inside, he was there. The squirrels didn’t have a chance.
Carol has been away for the last week and not surprisingly the cardinal seemed to be on vacation as well. It’s summer and there’s plenty of natural food out there. I needn’t be concerned. Then, when I arrived home Friday, he was waiting in the bushes that reach out toward the porch, a red splash in the thick green.
I gave a few short whistles in an effort to mimic his tweeting. It worked; he landed on the porch anxious for a handout.
On Saturday I whistled but no cardinal. Sunday morning I gave it another try and the cardinal appeared instantly. If only my whistles had the same effect on Ollie, whose independence streak has been our bane since we adopted him.
This time wanting to make certain only the cardinal would be rewarded, I fingered a half dozen seeds – placing them in full view. The cardinal was on them in no time.
I’d have to tell Carol I’d trained the cardinal to come when called.
Smug with my achievement I retreated inside, leaving the kitchen door open. I wasn’t gone for a moment. When I returned, there waiting for me in the middle of the kitchen floor sat an indignant squirrel.
What was I to do?
The cellar door was open. If he got down there, how would I get him out? If he shot past me, then he’d be loose in the house.
He watched me intently, fearless. He wanted his fair share.
“You’re carrying this a bit far,” I protested advancing slowly. He looked bewildered, a good sign. Yet it was a standoff. I didn’t have any seed to toss in his direction or out the door.
I took another step toward him. Four feet separated us. I waved my arms and that sent him out the door. He chattered his annoyance once outside, but I didn’t relent. No handout for the squirrel.
I let him know it was nothing personal. By Rix’s law I couldn’t be feeding him.
His look of disbelief was disarming.