The traffic on the Cape May Mall is thinning out now. Most of the vacationers are gone and few arriving. But there are some. Most of the birds have also fled, gone south. Except, as I mentioned in another post, the brave ones, those who thumbed their beaks at the departing flocks, chirping, "good riddance, don't come back!"
But maybe I've got it wrong. Maybe those who stayed behind weren't the brave ones. Maybe they just weren't wanted. Maybe they were warned to stay in Cape May because they'd be an embarrassment in Miami or Rio or wherever the others were headed. What could it be? Poor manners maybe? I can only guess.
I have it on fairly good authority, I think, that the birds we're talking about are sparrows. Repeating from my first blog on this subject -- I never said I was an ornithologist but these are little brown birds, dark shadings in their feathers. Cute.
But for those who haven't read my other entries about the birds and aren't interested enough to look them up (why would you be?) in the first experience I reported I was sitting in front of a bakery on said mall eating a pastry and drinking my coffee. A little brown bird (sparrow?) touched down on my table and sat staring at me. A lady on the next patio found this amusing and said, "he likes you." Maybe minutes later I threw a few crumbs of whatever I was eating on the patio floor and as he approached them two or three more birds came to join the first. And this is what really moved me: The first bird picked up a crumb and carried it to one of the late arrivals and placed it in his beak. After that scene I couldn't get enough of the birds. For a few days I returned to the bakery, always prepared to treat the little -- sparrows? But suddenly they stopped coming.
Now this is what makes me think I might have been rash in my evaluation of the migrating birds and their attitudes toward those who stayed. For weeks I noticed the birds flying all around the mall but they hadn't come near me in quite a long time and to be really honest I was hurt. What could I have done? They didn't care for oatmeal-raisin cookies? I tried strawberry cream croissants. Turned up their snotty beaks. Of course the tourists had arrived. From all over the world. Cape May is a popular place. I don't know what these aviary sophisticates were getting that was so superior to my offerings but until today they had hardly come near me.
But then today -- not expecting any visitors, just a little time with my raspberry (this time) cream croissants, my coffee and the New York Times, I settled in at my usual table in front of the bakery. Just as I started to read the news on the front page didn't one of those little -- sparrows -- light on a table just ahead of mine and sit staring at a middle-aged couple on the next patio. The couple seemed amused, possibly charmed, but uninitiated to customs on the mall. I flipped the little beggar a bit of my croissant and he pounced on it, right from the edge of the table. Just as quickly two more came. But there was no loving sharing of the bounty. One bird swooped down, grabbed the whole fairly large bit of croissant and flew off with it. The others flew off after him. (These were all males; I learned early how to tell the males from the females.) I threw more crumbs and more birds came. And again some snatched the grub away from others. They did keep coming and, being an inveterate sucker, I kept throwing treats. Even went into the bakery and got an oatmeal-raisin cookie, a large one. But the rude behavior of the little -- sparrows -- got no better. Snatch and grab was in, courtesy and appreciation out.
So here's my take on all of this. Maybe some knowledgeable bird watcher can check out my theory. Back in the spring the birds arrived from wherever they go in winter and the vacationers followed soon after. In between those two events I happened along to experience my first encounter with the little -- charmers. In between time they settled for my humble morsels. But not for long. The tourists were moving in from every corner of the globe. Who knows what they were feeding my new found friends? What could they possibly offer? Poached salmon? Stuffed flounder? This is seafood territory. Is that what birds want? Even the gulls who are much better equipped by nature to get first pickings from the ocean, just two blocks away, sail inland to satisfy their hunger any way they can. I saw one pluck a pizza slice from a little girl's hand as it was about to go into her mouth. That was on the boardwalk right at the ocean.
So why aren't my sparrows dining, along with their former companions, on exotic Caribbean gustatory fare? Maybe they just weren't wanted. Now that's sad.
Well, if they stay the winter, I don't mind feeding the little -- sparrows. The only thing is, the bakery will soon close with the end of the season. Then what? I've never had to deal with this kind of thing before. Guess I shouldn't worry. I really shouldn't.