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From:Diana Rankin <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Diana Rankin <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sun, 13 Feb 2011 18:16:51 -0600

I always enjoy Verlyn Klinkenborg's occasional 
column in the New York Times. Here is his piece in Saturday's newspaper.

Diana Rankin
Pomroy Township, Kanabec County

The New York Times
This copy is for your personal, noncommercial use 
only. You can order presentation-ready copies for 
distribution to your colleagues, clients or 
customers here or use the "Reprints" tool that 
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for samples and additional information. Order a reprint of this article now.

February 12, 2011

The Mob at the Feeders


Most days I see a male cardinal in the hickory 
tree behind the house, waiting to forage beneath 
the bird feeders. You don’t really “see” a male 
cardinal. The world collapses to a carmine point 
that puts everything else out of focus ­ the 
hickory, the snow, the woodsmoke from the 
village. For its character, modest and cautious, 
the cardinal is overdressed. But then what would 
living up to that plumage mean?

It would be nice if starlings came in ones and 
twos and were more like the cardinal in demeanor. 
We would see the ornateness of their feathering, 
which reminds me of the marbled endpapers of 
well-bound books. I’ve used starling hackle 
feathers for tying trout flies, and each one is a 
bit of the night sky with an iridescent galaxy shining near the tip.

Starlings come in gangs and mobs and hordes. They 
mug the suet and bicker over the oil-seed 
feeders. They fight all the time, yet only with 
one another. The other birds look on like hosts 
watching their dinner guests brawling across the table.

I find myself reflecting on the fact that there 
are 200 million starlings in this country, all 
descended from a few dozen birds released in 1890 
by the American Acclimatization Society, which 
was devoted to introducing European species to 
America. Starlings are good intentions in the 
flesh, which says nearly everything about good intentions.

But they’re here, and I look for a reason to 
admire them, apart from their feathers. They 
waddle, duck-like, and this makes them seem less 
leather-jacketed. But it’s no use. They have 
de-nested billions of birds, and the porch where 
the feeders hang looks like a scene from Hitchcock.

Then one morning they’re gone. The cardinal sits 
in the hickory. The chickadees take a seed, then 
pivot for a glance around. The woodpeckers are on 
the suet, probing quizzically. The house sparrows 
­ 19th-century imports themselves ­ move civilly 
among the fallen seeds as if to show they belong.

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