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Penkava: Birds of a feather eat at my house together

Published: Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014 12:06 a.m. CST • Updated: Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014 5:08 p.m. CST

Recently, when the temperature was way south of zero, I was sitting in my nice, warm dining room eating my nice, hot bowl of oatmeal.

In late fall we had strategically placed our bird feeder station so we could sit at the table and watch all the action. You know, the finches happily flitting in the air from feeder to feeder, the doves doggedly scooping up the fallen seeds on the ground, and the kamikaze squirrels flinging themselves from the trees at anything edible.

On a morning that had already hit minus 11, I figured it would be all quiet on the feathered front. Not. There they were on this ridiculously cold day, all our furry and plumy thespians on stage as usual, ready for another episode of “Suet Yourself.”

I guess the birds know a good thing when they see it. My wife faithfully refills their feeders daily. In fact, the other day I went with her to the store to replenish our supplies. I couldn’t believe the variety of seeds that we provided: thistle, sunflower, finch, millet, songbird mix … it was like I have an Old Birdy Buffet in my backyard.

As she was stacking the bags into my arms, I noticed the price tags.

“Geesh, honey, we’re spending a lot of money on those birds.”

“I know, but they are like you … once I start feeding them, I can’t stop because they depend on me for their food. You wouldn’t want me to stop cooking for you, would you?”

Speechless and reduced to the status of a dark-eyed male junco, I just silently stood there as she piled the bags of seed into my waiting arms. Thirty-some dollars later we were out the door and on our way home.

As part of our winter bird sanctuary, we also provide an unfrozen water source for our beaked consumers. Besides providing hydration, bathing provides the birds with opportunities for preening, which aligns feathers for optimized insulation against the cold. In other words, they also need an outdoor heated spa.

Thus, enter the Allied Precision Deluxe 250-watt Bird Bath Heater and De-Icer. Not to worry, this unit provides multiple thermostatic sensors so the water maintains a comfortable avian temperature. It’s also Teflon-coated to reduce mineral buildup. It has so many bells and whistles I’m surprised Michael Bolton isn’t singing about it.

Now, I’m not begrudging providing Mr. Sparrow and Associates with what they need to survive the winter. Sure, it’s an added expense. And if it fits in the budget, so be it. I just get jealous when my wife rejects my box of Twinkies from the shopping cart because of their fat content but she’s happy to give those guys a wad of lard called suet.

And as for the kamikaze squirrels, I figure if they’re up for extreme feeder-jumping, then let nature take its course. We see them on the ground eating side by side with the birds and they all get along fine. Maybe it’s we humans that have the problem. We put out free food and then we’re indignant when hungry animals show up. That’s like inviting all the relatives over for dinner and then being upset when your mother-in-law shows up. (Sorry, bad comparison on many levels)

So welcome, all you winged and fleet-footed creatures. There’s plenty of food for all and we change the spa water daily. You goldfinches, we’ll be putting out some purple coneflowers soon. Cardinals, look for some safflower seeds. Flickers, get ready for some peanuts. And you squirrels, save some food for the birds or I’ll make you listen to Michael Bolton Honda commercial songs.

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. He actually likes squirrels and would never intend to harm them. The Michael Bolton threat was inserted for humorous purposes. He can be reached at

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