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February 7, 2007
Interestingly, birds of different species usually leave one another alone at the feeder. A cardinal will chow down in close proximity to a sparrow and a dove, and nobody fights with anybody else. It's members of the same species who fight. No male cardinal is going to get anywhere near the feeder while another male cardinal is there -- in fact, he won't be allowed to share the same yard for very long. The husband-wife cardinal pair doesn't eat together, either: they take turns looking out for marauding cats, one descending to the feeder as soon as the other takes off for a branch to take a turn at watch.

The doves will share the feeder, but they jostle and criticize each other constantly while they do so, and think nothing of pushing a colleague off the tray if he gets too close. The house finches and purple finches are feisty with one another, which is interesting, because the goldfinches are not.

The woodpeckers and the nuthatches are shy. The grackles are not particularly aggressive at the feeder -- but then, they don't have to be: they're so much bigger than everyone else that all the other birds panic and leave when they appear. The jays dive-bomb the feeder and all the other birds scatter.

The hummingbirds are the meanest of them all, of course. They're all down south now, where life is lush and flowers abundant, where there is more than enough nectar for everyone. I wonder if they're as warlike down there are they are in my garden. How I would love to see them down south, great swarms of them! More different species than we have in the Northeast.

Whaddaya mean, mean? We're not mean, says Ethel. We're just New Yorkers. You don't look after yourself, nobody's gonna look after you.

I'm surprised to hear from her. If you're such a New Yorker, I say, what are you doing in Costa Rica?

Man, I can't deal with the cold. Forget about it. It gets cold, I'm history.

So why don't you just stay in Costa Rica all year?

Like I said, I'm a New Yorker.

Well, we miss you, Ethel. Do you miss us?
I ask.

Gotta go. See ya. Ethel never answers questions like that. A lot of people don't. Tough outsides and tender insides: that's the way a lot of people are. You have to learn to read their love, read it the way they show it, because you're probably not going to be able to read it in ways they don't show it.

Birds of a feather -- we struggle most with the ones we love the most. We care more about their regard than about the regard of others. They have more power to hurt us than others have.

So we'd best be careful. Try to say what we mean and not something else, and always understand that what someone else heard may not be what we thought we said. Not assume we understand each other just because we are called by the same name.

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