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How Moths Made It Into The Sunflower-Seed Mix

LACKING close neighbors, I wear no formal get-up when I step to the front porch and lay our expensive sustenance for our fine-feathered friends and our flying squirrel.

When I arise at dawn's early light to start breakfast (which I do), whatever I have on, if not much by July and more by December, is what the wing-ed birdies get to ogle. And I decided long ago that they don't congregate on my hospitality at that time of day to admire what I'm wearing.

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We get (not all at the same time) about everything that we should. And once in a while we get a stranger. We've never had a cardinal, although their range has extended in recent years, and some of our neighbors have been visited sparingly.

Now and then for a red bird we get a scarlet tanager, which is not uncommon in Maine, and one year we had a disoriented flight of them that was tragic.

They showed up and conditions were not congenial. They hung around and hung around and seemed not to know where to go or what to do. Many perished, perhaps too early or too late for customary food. They didn't come to the feeder.

But I'm the bird feeder, not the watcher. I strike out after taking the breakfast dishes to the sink, and occupy myself otherwise until bird-feeding time tomorrow.

So last September or so, as we were moving into one of the most salubrious falls Maine has had on record, my assistant ornithologist ventured a nature note. She said, ``We aren't getting any grosbeaks.''

``That'll save on our feed bill,'' I replied.

She added that she hadn't seen the finches and related gluttons, but hadn't thought about if for a few days, and then she began watching. Nope! It was too early for them to have flown south for the season, and we should be squandering oodles on the things.

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Fact is, she went on, it's time to have a chickadiddle now and then, and I haven't seen a chickadiddle either.

In my time, I've seen so many chickadees off and on, those in the dense growth of the back acres to those that come in the parlor window and perch briefly on the piano, that I do not hanker and yearn if one forgets to approach me and dee-dee-dee-dee-dee.

One winter, I tollered a flock of chickadiddles with lunch crumbs as I cut firewood in the hardwood growth, and they would ride around on my hat all day.

Miss Pennyminton, who taught third grade at the Preble School, brought her class one day to take pictures. What I mean is that in this vicinity it isn't all that unusual to see a chickadiddle. And I'd say they cost me 35 cents apiece each day in sunflower seeds.

It's about those sunflower seeds that this Audubon lecture is presented.

I don't know where sunflower seeds are grown in quantity for threshing and bagging for the bird-lover trade. The plastic bag they come in from our mammoth grocery mart bears no label other than that they are distributed by Fictional Brothers, but so is everything else in the store, which is owned by Fictional Brothers.

It is our custom to purchase sunflower seeds when needed, to bring them home, and to empty the plastic bag into a 20-quart plastic pail that is kept on the floor close to the front door, through which I feed the birds every morning. I keep a little plastic scoop that holds just a day's lunch.

I do not feed the flying squirrel on purpose. Our feeder is baffled so red and gray squirrels can't get to it and steal, but the flying squirrels do not pay heed. Other bird lovers tell me they dislike watching squirrels guzzle grub meant for songsters, but the flying squirrel is nocturnal and I never see him unless I turn on the porch lamp.

If I could think of some polite way to put the run on him I might try it, but then again perhaps not. I don't want to run a business that can be forced into bankruptcy by a flying squirrel. So the flying squirrel has nothing to do with this bird lecture.

I do have an evening easy chair not far from this plastic pail full of sunflower seeds. At an appropriate time, I come in the house, stand my snowshoes and dog-team whip in the corner, listen briefly to learn if the good-music radio is playing more Bach, and change to the tape player if it is.

I then relax to encourage a prandial attitude and to read my newspaper. I do not touch the television. And one evening as I was thus engaged, with one foot comfortable on the hassock and wondering if I should lift the other to comparable bliss or should I leave it wherever it was, a moth-miller almost the size of a nuthatch went past my left ear so close it roared like a jet.

``You got a bug-fly on the loose,'' I called to my associate, who was by the stove making roulade.

``I know,'' she made reply. ``I've been swattin' `em all day. Mild day brings `em out.''

``Out from where?'' I ventured to ask.

``Wherever they come from, I guess.''

So I got the fly swatter and off and on until supper was announced I dispatched moth-millers without discouraging them a bit.

Then I saw they were rising from my pail of sunflower seeds whenever a moth-miller egg completed gestation and was ready to fly.

On my next visit to the mammoth mart, I told the manager his sunflower seeds were infested, spelled L-O-U-S-Y.

``Yes, I know,'' he said. ``We have to spray out the birdseed display every morning.''

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