I stopped filling my birdfeeder for a few days. There are some younger birds who are at it all the time. It’s the middle of summer and food is easy to find, but they still sit at the feeder slurping up the grub. One bird in particular, a young cardinal, caught my attention. His mother first brought him to the feeder—I never saw a father. He’s been there ever since, hanging out with a few ne’er-do-well blue jays and sparrows. They don’t do anything constructive. They just throw smart aleck comments at the other birds and loiter around annoying the mourning doves and chickadees. One day I’m sure I saw them smoking crack(ed corn).
You don’t expect that kind of behavior from cardinals. They’re some of the good birds … church people. As with all bird parents, the mommy and daddy cardinal expect their little one to grow up to be something… maybe the Pope. (It never happens. No matter how hard they try, they never make it passed cardinal. I think there’s some racism involved.) The other day the mother cardinal stopped by to talk to her offspring.
Mother Cardinal: Reginald, we need to talk.
Sparrow: Reginald? I thought your name was Card Frenzy 5?
Blue Jay: Hey, who’s the sweet little cougar?
Reginald (alias Card Frenzy 5): Whoa. Hey man, that’s my mom you’re talking about.
Blue Jay: Your mom’s a fox, Card.
Reginald: Come on man, give me a break here.
Blue Jay putting a wing around Mother Cardinal: Hey sweet momma, how ‘bout you and me go someplace where we can get better acquainted? You know what they say: “Once you try jay you can’t stay away.”
Mother Cardinal shrugging off his wing: You’re crude and despicable. Didn’t your parents teach you any manners?
Blue Jay smiling: You’re trying to sound mad, but I got you blushing.
Sparrow: She’s a cardinal, Dude. Her face is always red.
Mother Cardinal: Reginald, can I talk to you alone?
Reginald, speaking to the other two birds: Can you guys give us a couple minutes?
Blue Jay smiling: I’m going over to the tree behind you. I’ll be checking out the view from the rear.
The sparrow and blue jay fly off.
Mother Cardinal: How can you hang around with those reprobates?
Reginald: They’re not that bad, and they don’t reprobate that much … well maybe the sparrow does.
Mother Cardinal: Reginald, what are you planning on doing with your life? Your father and I had such high hopes for you.
Reginald: This isn’t about that Pope-thing again is it? Because I don’t ever see it happening.
Mother Cardinal: It’s not that, but you’re wasting your life hanging around this feeder all day. There’s so much more to life than this.
Reginald: You’re the one who showed me the feeder.
Mother Cardinal, suddenly sobbing: I was a young single mother. It was early spring. Food was scarce. That’s what the feeder is for. Emergency situations. You don’t make a living from it!
Reginald: I’m surviving.
Mother Cardinal: But that’s all you’ll ever do is survive. Don’t you want to thrive? There is so much more out there than birdseed. There are bugs, berries, worms, caterpillars and grubs.
Reginald: Other than the berries, that stuff sounds pretty gross.
Mother Cardinal: You can’t depend on man to feed you all your life.
Reginald: Why not? If he’s willing to give me free food, I’m willing to take it.
Mother Cardinal: If you depend on someone, they own you and can control you. What if someday the man says, “No pooping on my car or I won’t fill the feeder.”
Reginald, shrugging: Then I guess I’d stop pooping on his car. I’ve never been into that anyway.”
Mother Cardinal after a gasp: It is the God-given right of every bird to poop on cars, especially freshly-washed ones. And what happens when the man tells you not to do other things if you want fed? Like banging into closed windows or getting into Walmart and flying around in the rafters?
Reginald: He’d never do that. He likes those things as much as we do.
Mother Cardinal gives a frustrated sigh: I’m not going to argue with you. All I ask is you think about your future. Winter is coming.
So I stopped filling the feeder to try and get the young birds out looking for food on their own. Three days later I went out to my pickup and, FILL THE FEEDER, BUTTWIPE, OR ELSE, was written on the hood in bird poop. I filled the feeder. I didn’t want to find out what or else meant.