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Do not throw the old breads away

I have stopped feeding the birds outside my home. Not intentionally. Constant travel has allowed me to be home early in the morning, tired. When I do return home, I do not have time to look outside, a habit that has become part of my quirkiness. I do this regular inspection of the trees, first, then the sky and the clouds at 5 in the morning. It is that time when the gray surrounding can confuse oneself - or you could confuse yourself: is this dawn or dusk?

Does anyone ever engage in this act? We look at stars. We look at the moon and check its phases. But does anyone inspect the trees for birds, or the sky for trails of these flying beings? What correlation can be formed between the colors of the clouds and the vanishing or incoming population of winged creatures? But I do. And I do it at that time, not the witching hours, but the quick moments when the night weakens at the sight of a stronger day. I do it, too, when my neighbors, which includes a cousin, will not have the chance to wonder what isolation has happened to this her kin.

Which came first: the fact that I have ceased placing morsels of old breads on the ledge that separates my home from the neighbor or the fact - my observation - that the birds had all gone away? Realizing that I have not fed the birds, these ordinary maya birds, may have indeed flown away.

The discomfort that, first, I conditioned them to fly close to my porch early in the morning and during late afternoons, induced in me a strong sense of guilt. I should not have started this at all. Like love. If you cannot sustain it, or you do not have it in you to sort of love forever, this forever, of course, is humanly measured in terms of a year or so, then do not venture into a contract.

But then again, it is possible that at the very second or minute my interest in feeding the birds waned, was also the point when something in their tiny bodies was telling them to fly away. Go there where more succulent fruits have grown to fit your beaks. Search for those ancient trees that hold a multitude of sweet worms. Or just savor the winds from north and south, east and west. They will teach you more about your wings than a banquet table full of old breads.

It is time to go back to my Bible for the Birds - Living as a Bird by the philosopher Vinciane Despret. It is time to turn to the page on The Power to Affect: “Food-related behavior is easily observed and measured. And it can be subjected to experimentation. If food supply is a major attraction in the choice of territory, the existence of an abundant food elsewhere, outside the territory, should cause birds to change location.” Despret continues: “Experiments carried out to this purpose would appear to suggest that food supply is not the determining factor, since, in the majority of cases, birds accept the offer, go and feed elsewhere and then return to their own sites.”

Or it could be a matter of space. The ledge where I would usually arrange bits and pieces of breads and the porch of my home may have become sources of spaces these birds recognize. But at certain junctures of their short lives, these birds began to see my spaces as not theirs?

Listen to what Despret says about spaces and territories quoting in the process other authors: “As we have seen, the same space, the inhabited space, can be a territory at certain times and not at others.” For the philosopher, “territory imposes a rhythm of space.” How does she explain this? For Despret, “it is possible to be a permanent resident, like the song sparrow (almost like our maya), and not be territorial during the winter, although as Nice (Margaret Morse Nice who wrote in American Midland Naturalist “The role of territory in bird life”) demonstrates, still continuing to live in the same place.

Have my feeding them created “the same place?”

But there are other thoughts on this notion of territory. Quoting H. E. Howard, the author of Territory in Bird Life, Despret states how “territory gave birds freedom because, as a meeting ground, it allowed them to come and go at will, confident that they would always be able to meet up there.” And yet this territory is not simple as it sounds. For Howard again, as quoted by Despret, a “territory in a sense imposes a sense of obligation.” Articulated, this means “the territory has a hold on the bird because of food supply, a ‘hold’ because of the risk of overpopulation, a ‘hold’ because of the bird’s inability to go elsewhere.” Somewhere in this discussion, the concept of the territory as a source of oppression comes up.

This business of feeding tiny birds has become oh-so complicated. There is a relief though: two mornings ago, I came home from a long trip. At 4 in the morning, there was a chill in the air. And I felt it was time to try feeding these birds again. Yesterday, they came back, upholding their territory. And my obligation to them begins again.


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