Practically the first thing I do every morning is feed the birds. Like a good cowboy or farmer, I believe a man takes care of his stock first, before sitting down to his own meal.
Most days, unless a seed or suet feeder needs refilling, all this really entails is tossing out a few scoops of cracked corn for the ground feeders. I step onto the deck where the big shiny metal trash cans holding the various birdfoods are stored, lift the corn bin's lid, scoop-and-fling a couple of times, visually check the other feeders, and scuttle back inside—desperate for that first sip of life-inducing coffee.
I'm an early riser, and thus an early bird feeder. It is usually still dark out as I fulfill my corn-flinging chore. Those of you who seldom check an almanac in regards to sunrise times might be surprised to learn today's sunrise came only five minutes earlier than sunrise on the morning of the winter solstice, way back on December 21st. (Yes, the days are indeed getting longer—this evening's sunset is 34 minutes later than on that same solstice day. But as we head toward the summer solstice, the initial lengthening of daylight's span occurs almost entirely in the afternoon/evening; dusk is noticeably delayed, the lingering light accounting for the bulk of our gain, while dawn still seems caught in a trap, unable to make much headway.)
Because it is still dark as I do my feeding, there's nothing much to be seen—the rough lower trunk of the big box elder, as lit by the waning pool of yellow porchlight; the shadowy bulk of nearby bushes; the ghostly glow of sycamores along the bank; the glint and shimmer of the river's moving ribbon beyond; and thataway, an invisible presence, the island across the channel.
However, while I can't see, I can hear…and so I listen. To the hoot of a far-off owl or the wavering yip of a coyote. Or maybe the wind stirring through the treetops, though not usually so early; wind typically arrives with the dawn. I might hear rain or sleet, or the quiet tone of snow sifting earthward. Always, of course, there's the sound of the river—whispering, murmuring, infrequently roaring.
I can also hear birds. Not just any birds, for birds have a definite schedule. Some arrive for breakfast in the gray first light of dawn. Others a few minutes after, with the real light. Some don't put in an appearance until the morning is definitely underway. Still, I don't have to be able to see to know the early birds here wear scarlet. The cardinal's quick whistled chert, chert, chert is easily identified. And this morning, even with a heavily overcast sky and an end-of-night darker than most, I could actually see their silhouettes—little bird-like clumps, sitting in the nearby trees, caught between the porchlight's feeble glow and the black-velvet darkness.
If I'm running on schedule or late, the redbirds are already in the nearby trees, awaiting my corn tossing. If I'm a bit early, I'll hear them chert, chert, chert over in the cedars and junipers, as if passing the word to one another that breakfast is now being served. That calling is quickly followed by the whir of their wings as they fly across the short distance into their ringside perches.
The minute I'm back inside, the cardinals are on the ground and eating—breakfasting by porchlight. I'm not sure if they're hungry, gluttonous, or just hoping to beat the sparrows. The early bird not only gets the worm, it also gets first dibs on the cracked corn. I do know cardinals are invariably the first to appear in the morning and the last to disappear when twilight turns to darkness. How they find their way back to their safe night roost in the cedars and junipers is amazing.
All cooks love seeing their food eaten with gusto. I know I do. And I get the same pleasure feeding my redbirds early and listening to them chert, chert, chert excitedly up there in the darkness.
I like it, too, how each of us gleefully anticipates the other.