I’m sure the key to happiness is in learning to find joy in small things. One is never guaranteed wealth, and attaching one’s happiness to costly possessions, while fun, can be a great source of disappointment if circumstances change. People know this deep down, and have always known- its not some new-age concept. The notion of being “down to earth” certainly has a lot more meaning to me now than when I was younger.
At the moment, I’m contemplating the entertainment value of a small dish of grape jam. In front of me, as I write, are three bird feeders: one with sunflower seeds, one with nyger seeds, and one with jam. The first two are being visited by the usual suspects – chickadees and finches, grosbeaks and woodpeckers, and cardinals. One never knows what will show up to dine at the latter, however. At our previous place I never had much luck putting out jelly- the orioles would stop briefly on their way north, gorge for a couple of days, and then either move on or ignore sweets after that. Now, I live where there are more mature trees in the area plus the river and this year the orioles (both Baltimore and Orchard) are nesting with multiple families, and continue to visit. I’ve gotten used to the unusual, indigo-bunting-like song of the orchards as two males sing back and forth, challenging each other since May. Now, families of both species are visiting, with young birds squawking and vibrating their wings to entice their parents to share mouth-fulls of sweet goo. The adults don’t seem too enthusiastic at this point and the youngsters quickly learn the source of the treat and get their own. Of course, lots of ants are attracted to the jelly dish as well, and sometimes they are the target of the birds rather than the jam itself.
It’s not only orioles that crave the sweet: house finches, gray catbirds, cardinals, chickadees- they all visit the jam. Catbirds enjoy it as much as orioles. Even the rose-breasted grosbeaks take a sip now and then, but they go back to sunflower eventually.
I feed jam because I think it contains more of the whole grape. Both jam and jelly have a lot more sugar in them than the original fruit does, leading to some concern about how this might affect the health of the birds. That’s a reasonable concern, so I limit the amount of jam I put out- one spoon in the morning, and some days another after work. With all the birds that visit, the jam is gone in an hour or two, so the rest of the day the birds have to find their own food (or at least find someone else’s jam). Orioles and other birds naturally seek out a variety of foods- fruit, nectar, insects, and seeds. Most, I’m sure, have a varied and healthy diet as long as they have good habitat around them. Just now, one oriole decided to visit the other feeder and try a sunflower seed, which I’ve not seen before. Wait-there’s an adult and begging young bird- I’ll try to get a photo with my phone…
I think the fact that when I visit the grocery store this time of year, there is often an empty shelf where the bargain brand jelly used to be, reflects at least in part how many people feed jelly to birds. I wonder how much money the sale of jelly and oranges generates for farmers, manufacturers, and retailers -all because people like to see colorful birds in their yards. With little thought, and following our natural tendency to like birds, a relationship has developed which results in benefit not only to nature, but a lot of people as well. Lets hope we keep looking for those opportunities.