Monday, December 11, 2006

Mealworm update

Believe it or not, the birds actually do prefer their mealworms re-hydrated rather than straight from the bucket. Who knew?

On Sunday morning, I dutifully steeped some worms in a mug of hot water, like something out of fear factor. When I could no longer stand the sight nor the faint wormy aroma that had settled on the kitchen, I tossed them into the yard. And, to my surprise, they were gone within 15 minutes. I was impressed.

A few hours later, the blue tits found the suet, and more birds had gathered in the trees. My hostess instincts kicked in, and I felt I ought to go offer them more food. Not wanting to go through the whole worm tea routine again, I spooned a small pile of worms directly onto the patio, thinking they couldn't possibly tell the difference. Wrong.

A few minutes passed before a magpie flapped down from a tree. He surveyed the worms, then pinched one between his beak and gulped it down. He blinked. He cocked his head, surveying the crispy mass. Then he flew away! Five minutes passed. No takers. Thirty minutes, nada. Finally, it began to rain. A puddle collected around the worms, which sat there soaking for about an hour before a bird would even go near them.

It's a slippery slope I find myself on. When we lived in DC, I befriended the neighborhood squirrels. I taught them to feed from my hand. I'd sit on the front porch and offer them nuts, and some became so tame they would lay a little paw on my hand to steady themselves as they reached to take a nut into their little jaws. I devised a special call that, when made out the back door, would produce half a dozen of them within minutes. When they saw me coming down the block after work, they'd congregate in our front yard. In the evenings, if they saw me through the kitchen window chopping vegetables, they'd balance on the windowsill watching me until I looked up, noticed them, and came outside to feed them.

I loved those squirrels, and could even tell them apart by their markings. I felt like Jane Goodall. But I spoiled them. I had started out feeding them unshelled peanuts, from large bags purchased cheaply at Safeway. They were grateful for anything in the beginning. But then one day I was in Whole Foods and remembered there were no nuts at home. I felt lazy, didn't want to go to another store just for nuts. And so, foolishly, I popped a few bags of organic, shelled Brazil nuts into the cart.

The squirrels, I think, had never eaten a Brazil nut before. But they quickly realized its superiority. After a week of eating high on the hog, the Brazil nuts were gone and I picked up more pedestrian nuts for them. But once you've had silk you can't go back to polyester.

That night on the porch, they sniffed indifferently at the Safeway peanuts I dangled at them and looked at me as if to ask, "don't we deserve better?" Some took the peanuts, but they buried them--the treatment for a Plan B nut. Others couldn't be persuaded at all. Needless to say I quickly returned to the organic Brazil nuts. I mean, I loved those squirrels--what was I supposed to do?

I suppose I now face a similar dilemma here in suburban England. Three months from now, will steeping freeze dried worms have become part of my morning routine?

No comments: