I always enjoy Verlyn Klinkenborg's occasional
column in the New York Times. Here is his piece in Saturday's newspaper.
Pomroy Township, Kanabec County
The New York Times
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February 12, 2011
The Mob at the Feeders
By VERLYN KLINKENBORG
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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