Welfare Birds

I feel terrible.  I’ve created a monster.  What am I going to do?

The scene of the crime is outside our kitchen window.  We hung a bird feeder there.  My wife and I enjoy seeing and listening to all the different kinds of birds that stop by for a few seeds.

The feeder went up last winter and only a few birds dropped by at first.  But with the steady warming, there are now dozens of birds we see on a regular basis.

These birds apparently love our feeder.   Really, really love it.  They now spend their days hanging out on the tree by the window.   All day long they take turns grabbing a mouthful, and then returning to the shady branches until they’re inclined to make another food run.  They’ll spend hours each day doing nothing more than just eating and relaxing.

Sure we enjoy their constant songs.  On the other hand, we’re starting to worry about the birds we’re feeding, not to mention the speed with which they’re going through bird seed.  Time was when a 20 pound sack of birdfeed would last 2-3 months.  Now the birds are going through a sack about every two weeks.

And they’re getting pushier.  Once we had a cardinal who banged his beak on the window if the bird feeder was empty.  Honest.  It was pretty funny at the time.  Now I’m not so sure.

What started as a simple act to help some birds out during our unusually hard winter has now left us wondering if we’ve eliminated one problem while creating another.

They should be out digging up their own worms.  But why bother when Chez Huston has them covered, no hassle, for free?

I’ll just come out and say it.  We have created a bird welfare state.

Three days ago we filled the bird feeder, and as I’m writing this it’s already empty.  The birds are outside making a racket.  They’re not happy.   So my wife and I have made the hard decision.  Sometimes you have to go with tough love.

We’re going to cut them off.  Cold Turkey.

If they want to eat they’ll have to go back to working for their food the way the rest of us do.  Turn over some dirt.  Expend some energy. Work for it.

It’s for their own good.

People, meanwhile, are not birds.  And from time to time there are people with plenty of ambition and self-respect who are knocked off their feet by the cruelties of life.  Surely as a society we have an obligation to help those who struggle, if for no other reason than it might have been us, no matter how invincible we think we are.  So we help.  And those in need recover and move on, grateful for what they received.

But we’ve all heard of people who become dependent on welfare, and appear willing to exchange their ambition and self-respect for the meager crumbs available to them from those with the means to provide.  When that happens neither the giver nor receiver benefit.

Welfare may well be the sociological equivalent of opioids.  Doctors prescribe opioids to stop pain.  Alleviating the pain of a suffering patient is a noble goal.  And yet some patients become addicted to the cure they receive from doctors acting in good conscience.  Nobody wants this to happen, but sometimes it happens anyway.

With welfare, what starts as a helping hand to those in need can become an addiction, and it may not be possible to predict in advance who will succumb.  Addictive behavior does not favor any race, gender, or income level.

Treatment may be necessary, but isn’t likely to be available.  So instead we just keep feeding the habits of the struggling ones in our midst, while simultaneously complaining about their condition.

This difficult problem does not come with a simple solution, but awareness is at least a start.  Meanwhile, when my wife and I take down our bird feeder I hope the birds will be alright. But some young birds may already be far enough removed from having to search for food that they’ll starve.  But of course they’re just birds.  And we always treat people better than birds.


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