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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Everybody Eats

Air Date: Week of

(Photo: Mark Seth Lender ©)

Salt Marsh Diary writer Mark Seth Lender puts on the feed for all his feathered customers, dawn to dusk!


GELLERMAN: When writer Mark Seth Lender began feeding birds, he had no idea how demanding his feathered customers were going to be.

LENDER: These late Spring days when first light comes so early even the bedroom windows blink and squint, all I want to do is pull the covers over my head. That’s when the birds begin, drumming me to breakfast. It is not an invitation to eat. It’s an invitation to cook. For them. I’m the one who has not had his coffee and they are the ones who are grumpy. “Come and get it” is all they want to hear, finest spread North of the Border, this diner opens when the customers order.

“Whiskey dry!” I put the breadcrumbs out.

(Photo: Mark Seth Lender ©)

“Birdseed hold the Baby!” bowlfuls of safflower & sunflower straight from the box, this client needs no milk on their breakfast cereal.

First to arrive, it’s always the cardinals. They grab and run as if they have a schedule and a clock to punch. Next the white-breasted nuthatch. Not a regular. Used to dine at the tree across the street but he’s comin’ ‘round. Spying his meal with just one eye, he’d turn his bill to the side, awkward and slow. After a week he’s learned the common technique, barely parted beak dainty as chopsticks, very neat. Next in line, dark-eyed juncos and a whole gang of tree sparrows. ground feeders, they are accustomed now to the narrow counter of the porch rail, though they scrape and scratch their feet to get at what they want. Food everywhere!

“Hey! Ya gonna be a slob? Go take ya picnic somewheres else.”

But it’s okay, the mourning doves jump on what the juncos leave behind and clean up every scrap.

“Sharp-shinned hawk!” The bluejay cries. Birds dive for the bushes like the joint’s been raided and whisper when they talk, thin high whistles of warning. Some are always caught, feathers settling on the front walk. The mourning doves truly have a thing to mourn this morning.

(Photo: Mark Seth Lender ©)

Rain. The place empties out. I get to sit, looking forward to a quiet second shift when, in a New York Minute, pandemonium – everybody starvin’ all at once!

“86 that Cup a Mud ta go, Crow don’t want it anyways. Bottled water? We got City Juice, take it or leave it!”

By the end of the day all I’ve earned is dirty dishes, and just when it’s time to kill the lights, the cardinals dash in for one last bite before I pull the mat up for the night.

But the proprietor – that’s me - knows business is business, it all adds up, I take in all the custom I can. Even that pesky gray squirrel rates a Blue Plate Special.

Everybody eats when they come to my house.

GELLERMAN: Mark Seth Lender writes the syndicated column “Salt Marsh Diary.” To see some of his photographs and find out more about his writings, go to our website at LOE.org.



Salt Marsh Diary

Click here for Mark Lender’s glossary of diner slang.


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