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News » Private Eye

For the Birds

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It's always struck me as weirdly cosmic how quickly something that seems benignly innocent can beget a trail of events. About a week ago, I was sitting at the kitchen table (my new office since I can still barely walk after knee-replacement surgery), looking at the birds that visit the numerous feeders hanging from decks and trees outside. The many feathered friends that stop by have been a grand relief to me during hundreds of miserable COVID-lonely days with over a dozen bird species plus a squirrel feasting daily. Hummingbirds, chickadees, quail, ducks, woodpeckers, finches, jays and doves all consider my backyard their casa.

I was soon startled when a sparrow went full splat against a kitchen window. Before you start sending emails about how I can prevent such matters, please know that I attempt best bird-safety practices, but birds still fly into our windows and have for 25 years. I walk into glass windows myself. That, plus eating, are all I have in common with birds. The sparrow fell directly to the ground. As I was feeling sorry for the little guy and preparing to tend to him, my occasional-resident Cooper's hawk swooped in and flew off with him. That explained why the sparrow smacked the window.

He wasn't the first backyard meal taken by Mr. Cooper. I've also seen him snag doves and robins and just as often have found piles of feathers in the yard. I've also watched Mr. Magpie venture into bird nests and snag baby chicks or bust the eggs of sparrows and finches. What began as a happy distraction during COVID—becoming a backyard bird watcher—was becoming less happy. Before my eyes, my back yard was turning into Jurassic Park.

So, I went to all the feeders and took them all down. That was that, I thought. No more food for the little birds meant no more food for the bigger birds that ate them. That gave me a clean conscience that I wasn't contributing to the death of those little birds, conveniently ignoring that the same hawk would find and eat the same birds somewhere else. I didn't have to see it; therefore, it didn't happen. I was clean, so to speak. As long as those dang birds didn't eat each other in my presence, it didn't happen.

After a few days, I caved. Some of the birds that found pattern in their eating habits kept coming by and giving me the stink eye, like, "Hey, Fatso—how about thinking about us? What kind of featherless provider are you, anyway?" The mourning doves were particularly effective at making me feel guilt—they are so helpless as it is, and they have those mourning eyes. The finches kept perching in the branches near the spot where their black sunflower-seed feeder used to hang. The sparrows, not the most sympathetic of birds, just flew in and flew out, never conceding that their easy food supply had disappeared. But it was the sparrows that set me right.

Above my porch is a forest of wisteria that houses any number of sparrow nests. In recent weeks, I'd watched Mr. Magpie raid those nests, spilling broken eggs onto the porch and poking little chicks to death. I thought they were all goners. But a few days ago, at a point exactly above the back-porch door, I heard the chirping of baby chicks. And I thought, yeah, what's wrong with me? Like it or not, they depended on me. I could either pretend that by not feeding them, they'd not die somewhere else, or I could put the feeders back up and do at least a smattering of good. Plus, I like birds—as mean, messy and carnivorous as they can be. My not feeding birds was not saving birds.

In the middle of my personal avian drama, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the fulcrum point of nearly every divisive political discussion since it was first ruled on Jan. 22, 1973, when a Texas abortion ban was deemed unconstitutional. It's also been the laser point of what must be billions of dollars raised by both major political parties as each bore their arms either for or against Roe. For years, I've believed that Roe v. Wade would never be overturned because it's been such a cash cow for American politicians. That's how stupid I am. The brilliant cynical case made now is that the abortion fights will raise more political dollars than ever with all 50 states engaging in the debate annually (has anyone considered what happens to Utah when it goes blue?), replete with all the hand wringing, teary testimonials and wads of cash tossed to mealy politicians who can't even patch a highway.

Judging by all the erectile dysfunction commercials on TV, the self-righteous conveniently ignore that such ads promote that it's OK for a man to get a boner and get his jollies off, but to then selectively shirk all responsibility of fatherhood should a pregnancy occur. If there were a similar ad for women, she would be slut-shamed. This abortion ruling occurs at a time when our society is moving backward to the binary of men vs. women Dark Ages.

Abortions will not end. Only legal abortions. It's again Jan. 21, 1973. And I'm back to where I was before I took the feeders down. The birds went off to die somewhere else. I should not feel good about that. Nor should any pro-lifer feel good today—they save no lives by merely shutting their eyes. I will help the birds that I can and help the women that I can. My feeders—and support of women's causes—remain up.

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