Many years ago my Mother installed a simple goldfinch feeder in her backyard garden, and it instantly attracted scores of brilliant yellow male finches and their less spectacularly feathered mates. Always a pretty place to spend time, my Mother’s garden came alive in a new way. Sitting on the patio together, she and I would motion excitedly whenever a particularly impressive number of birds were gathered to feast on the feeder. The all time record was nine; one on each of the six feeding pegs and three more on top of the feeder, impatiently waiting for their turn.
Demand was so high that my Mother installed a second feeder, which led to the curious discovery that finches prefer to hang upside down while feeding. The original upside down version would be packed with birds while the right side up model, that was identical in every other way, attracted only one or two of the most desperately hungry souls.
Shortly after Craig and I married, we purchased a new build home. When the lawn was finally laid, a finch feeder was one of the first things we installed in the backyard. I was cautiously optimistic, given that the popsicle stick trees planted on the boulevards of our ‘new-home-wasteland’ neighbourhood offered little protection for birds from weather or predators.
Much to my delight, and the surprise of anyone who visited us, our feeder attracted a steady stream of finches. More than once, a visitor gasped at the sight of a brilliant yellow bird in our backyard and declared that someone’s pet had gotten loose.
I’d share the secret formula with anyone who was willing to listen. “Go to Canadian Tire, pick up a feeder (the upside down kind), fill it with thistle seed, hang it in your yard and you’ll have goldfinches too,” I’d explain. “Even if you’ve never seen one in your neighbourhood before. Trust me, they’ll come.”
They came to mine for years.
And then they didn’t.
Maybe I kept my feeder too long and seasons of rain resulted in a musty smell that kept the birds away. Maybe it was my new neighbour Winnie who installed her own goldfinch feeder on the other side of the fence. Like the rest of her property, her feeder was immaculate and it never ran empty. So I scrubbed my feeder clean, threw out all of my seed and started with a fresh bag.
But they didn’t come back.
It crossed my mind that Winnie probably wasn’t buying her seed at Canadian Tire. These were Oakville finches after all; maybe their palates had become more refined than the average bird. So the next year I purchased fresh seed from a fancy garden store. I threw out my old feeder and bought a new one.
Still no birds.
Maybe it’s the kids, I thought. As they grew, our backyard had become noisier than it used to be, although neither Craig nor I would ever have been described as soft-spoken. Regardless, I couldn’t very well get rid of the kids. Year after year, the feeder sat full of seed but empty of birds.
Last spring, Winnie moved away and although you might think this would re-ignite my efforts to lure the goldfinches back, I was so distraught to have lost my good friend and gardening advisor that I found it difficult to get motivated to spend much time on the backyard.
But by the time spring rolled around this year, I was feeling a bit brighter.
I placed a shiny new feeder right outside our kitchen window. We eat every meal at the table next to this window and the kids do their homework there. If my feeder attracted finches, one of us would surely spot them.
I can’t say that I’ve seen the birdie line ups of my Mother’s feeder, but I have seen five or six so far, and it gives me a thrill far greater than it probably should. I’ve begun setting up my laptop at the kitchen table in an effort to catch a glimpse of them. While I wrote this there have been two, a male and a female. The male is an other-worldly hue of brilliant yellow, and both birds dangle beneath the feeding posts from twiggy legs.
Watching them makes me wonder how these fragile creatures survive the elements. But I suppose that when we need to be, we’re all stronger than we look.
I’m sure glad to see them. And I hope they tell their friends.