Friday, March 6, 2015

Impacts of Dark Winter on Wildlife and Promise of Rising Sun


Willow, the little wood duck at Reservoir. Does she see spring around the corner through the ice and snow?
The cluster.
Bruce the brute ripping off more "gifts" yesterday.
A man sharing his croissant with the ducks and geese last night.
 
During harsh and bleak times, we sometimes seek lightness and humor to help get us through. The "silver lining" so to speak -- something to temporarily lesson the pain of the whole.
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Yesterday morning when entering Central Park, it appeared like a beautiful, Currier and Ives post card. What can, after all, be more magical and peaceful than freshly fallen, virgin snow clinging to the trees surrounded by vision of white? Spectacular and immaculate might be the most descriptive words.
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But such is not the whole picture, is it?
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It will be some time before we know the full impacts of this abnormal and brutal winter upon much of the wildlife in the mid west, south and north east -- particularly water birds.
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Last year around this time, there was scant, but informative coverage in lesser known newspapers (unfortunately, none in NYC).
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 The other night, there were two more dead ducks on the ice at the Reservoir.
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As pointed out in both news pieces above, water birds are capable of surviving extreme cold if they have adequate food supplies and fat reserves.  But, both last winter and this one, there has been little reprieve from snow and frigid temperatures and thus, no temporary thaws of ice and snow. 

With little to no open water or exposed ground on which to graze, fat reserves of water birds deplete and exhaustion and starvation ensue. Such is likely to occur in late winter, rather than early or mid point and is thus what we have seen in recent weeks.  
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In trying to find lightness and humor to otherwise grim circumstances, I attempted the other day to describe "love sick" ducks and geese.
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But, of course, Bruce and Bozo are not so love sick as much as they are in pure survival mode. There is difference between love and desperation, as there is difference between love and gratitude.  While there are certain elements of recognition and some of actual affection, what is mostly viewed, is fight for survival.
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It has been refreshing the last two nights to finally meet people who recognized immediately, what they are actually seeing without one having to explain.
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The other night while tossing food to the cluster of frantic birds around me, a woman taking pictures asked, "What are you feeding them?"
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"A mixture of black oiled sunflower seeds, dry cat food and whole wheat bread," I politely  answered.  "The birds are starving."
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"I see that," the woman replied. "But doesn't the Central Park Conservancy or the city feed them during these harsh times?"
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"Are you kidding?" I laughed. "The Conservancy hires a company called Geese Police to harass the geese throughout the entire year, including winter. If these geese attempt to go any other place in the park, they are immediately chased by dogs or frightened off with noise makers. The geese are viewed as nuisance. The city and Conservancy would as soon they all died here."
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"Oh my God, I didn't know anything about that." the woman said obviously upset. "That's terrible!" She then added. "You know, I read the New York Times everyday and I never saw anything about the impacts of this winter on wildlife or that the parks try to push the birds out."
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"I know. The media reports on the weather, but only its inconvenience to us. We hear about tourists who are upset when ferry rides are canceled due to ice floes on the rivers. But we don't hear about starving waterfowl on ice covered watercourses and snow covered parks."
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"I wish I had known about this. I would have brought some food with me, but it never occurred I would encounter something like this." the woman lamented.  "I will bring some food for them tomorrow. Thanks for letting me know."
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A short time later, another woman passed and engaged me in similar conversation.  I told her, "What you are seeing here is not normal behavior for ducks and geese.  It's sheer desperation."
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"You don't have to tell me. I see," she replied in earnest.
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Like the first woman, this woman too regretted not having anything for the birds, but assured me she would bring some sustenance the next day. "It is so sad to see this kind of suffering. It's been such a brutal winter for them."
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Last night too, I encountered a young college student who aided me in dispersing the food I had brought to the birds, as well as a middle-aged man who offered the croissant in his backpack to the ducks. Of course, pastry may not be the most nutritious food for hungry wildlife, but at this point, any calories are better than none at all.
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It has been refreshing over the past couple of days to encounter people who get the dire nature of the situation immediately. One never knows when sharing information with others, how many actually assimilate and take proactive action at some point. But, I will be happy if sensing one or two people out of the many actually engaged with over these past few months take the conversations to heart and perhaps make some small changes in their perceptions and awareness.
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Perhaps that is one of the ultimate goals of living.
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The snow has finally stopped in New York City, but we wake up to another bitter day of 13 degree temperatures.
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The good news however, is that there are only a couple of more frigid days to get through before temperatures start to warm to what would be considered "normal" for this time of year.
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But, I fear the full impacts of this brutal winter (particularly on water birds) will not be known for quite some time. We don't for example, know the impacts upon migrating and nesting birds yet. (I personally believe that the two nesting geese who perished less than ten days after laying eggs at the Reservoir last spring died due to malnutrition experienced over the preceding winter. Other dangers include flooding of nests in marshy areas due to large snow and ice runoffs.)
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But, for the moment, the main concern is to just get through the next week and hope not to find any more dead birds at the Reservoir.
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And to try and take some delight and laughs at the antics of Bruce, Bozo and Willow as even through the darkest of nights, there is always light of the moon and the promise of a rising sun just a few hours away. -- PCA
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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Bad Boys of the Reservoir (Love-Sick Drake and Gander)


Bruce the Brute attacking another drake. "You cannot be here. Off with you!"
The spoils as gift.  "ARE you not proud of me?"
Bozo striking a pose.
Bozo won't let me leave!
"You can't just abandon me!"
 
I seem to have become the object of misplaced avian affection over the past few weeks.
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Perhaps this brutal winter has put a damper on the normal paring rituals and battles that typically occur in January and February or maybe a mallard drake and Canada goose gander are just jaded in some way. But, I am lately observing and experiencing some very strange behavior.
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I named the drake, "Bruce the Brute" at least two weeks ago, when noticing a particularly feisty mallard beating up on every other duck (male or female) who dared to come anywhere near me. After chasing, pecking and often grabbing a piece of down from some poor, unsuspecting and hungry mallard, Bruce then typically stands at my feet, looks up and apparently expects praise.
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Sometimes he even presents the ripped off piece of down as a "gift!"
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I am obviously not pleased with this uncharitable and nasty behavior towards the other ducks and have attempted to admonish Bruce the Brute both, verbally and even with a few pats along his rear end, but to no avail.
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Bruce is simply incorrigible. Or love-sick and jealous. I am not sure.
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Adding to these woes over the past few days has been an even "crazier" Canada goose gander!
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"Bozo" first grabbed my attention a couple of nights ago, when brazenly flying up and landing on the top of the pointed iron fence that separates the Reservoir from the running path -- certainly an unusual (and kind of crazy) action for a goose.
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He posed for a few seconds and I was able to snap a couple of photos.
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But, what is not seen in the photo is what Bozo did next!
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While trying to put away my camera, Bozo suddenly took off from the fence and attempted to land on the top of my head!
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"What the hell! Are you out of your mind!?" 
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Apparently, the top of my head isn't big enough for the two large, webbed feet of a gander to properly balance, so fortunately, Bozo quickly dismounted and jumped to the running path.
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But, like Bruce (the mean mallard), Bozo hovers at my feet and follows me around. While not particularly mean to mallards, Bozo nevertheless doesn't like me tossing treats to the other birds and pecks at my coat, my bag and even my hands.
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"No, no, pay attention to me -- ONLY me!"
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This same exact ritual has occurred two nights in a row.  Last night, Bozo was so demanding of my undivided attention, he nearly followed me home!
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"Where are you going?  You can't leave me!"
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Rummaging in my bag, I finally found a crust of bread to toss to Bozo and then made a quick getaway -- snow and all!.
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I don't know who of the two "offenders" is actually worse, but both, Bruce and Bozo are too possessive, jealous, demanding and intense for my independent taste.
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Moreover, I am neither a duck nor a goose!
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The good news in this bizarre saga is that Bozo is usually not at the Reservoir in the mornings as presumably he is out foraging with a bunch of other geese.
And I don't always see the bullying and cantankerous Bruce the Brute at night.
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Spring is supposedly just a few weeks away (though one would never know it by recent snowfalls and more snow expected tonight and tomorrow).
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Surely at some point these birds have to recognize they are, well, birds and that I am not!
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Should that not occur, does anyone know of a Match or Harmony.com site for lonely and love lorn drakes and ganders?  -- PCA
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Can It Be? More Snow!


Mallards attempting to forage in snow almost as high as they.
Ice landing!
Willow the little woodie, hanging tough.
The melee.
"Can I come home with you now?"

In the wish not to become hopelessly redundant and boring, I will simply let the photos speak for themselves today.  

Yes, we got more snow in New York last night. 


What else is new?  -- PCA





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Monday, March 2, 2015

Something About the Bright Red Patches of "Canada Goose"


Beware, beautiful one of the bright red patches and what they signify to you.
The scramble.
And the curious.
 
No sooner did the coldest February in NYC in more than 80 years finally depart, when March rolled in with five more inches of snow to dump on the city.
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Snow was the last thing the ducks, geese and other wildlife needed in the northeast.
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Last night mallards were digging under snow almost as high as they were in frantic search of seeds and food.
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But, it isn't just the water birds of Central Park suffering this winter, as much as wildlife along 2/3rds of the country as this Boston Globe article describes:
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A few nights ago, I was tossing food to the ravenous geese and mallards at the Central Park Reservoir as a young couple stood behind me eagerly taking photographs. They were fascinated by the ducks and geese clustered at my feet and grasping food from my hands.
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Pointing to three bodies frozen in the middle of the ice, I said, "You see over there? Those are three dead geese who starved to death on this frozen ice.  Mallards have died here too. There is no food for the birds during this brutal winter."
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The girl frowned, "Ah, that is sad."  
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The young man continued taking photos and commented that the birds "really love" me.
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Noting the bright red label on the sleeve of his Canada Goose parka, I replied, "The geese would love you too, if you brought food for them, instead of wearing them."
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Suddenly embarrassed, the young man proclaimed his coat "was a gift."
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"Well then, perhaps you can make it up to the animals the next time you come, by bringing some sustenance for them during this punishing weather," I replied with a forced smile.
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"Wear a heart on your sleeve, instead of a label."
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The young man smiled.  "I see your point."
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I did not think anymore of the encounter until this morning.
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Listening to The Today Show while preparing to go to Central Park this morning, the mention of "Canada goose" suddenly grabbed my undivided attention.
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But, it was not a report about suffering geese or other wildlife during this frigid, abnormal winter, but rather (and quite shockingly), a nearly 3-minute "commercial" for the controversial company, Canada Goose disguised as journalism:
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Had Canada Goose spent 2 million dollars for a Super Bowl ad, they could not have gotten better --and free advertising than this.
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Al Roker did the so-called report, presumably because he is a fan and wearer of the product.
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But nowhere in the 2:53 promotional piece, was it mentioned the incalculable numbers of geese slaughtered to fill Canada Goose products nor the coyotes trapped, tortured and killed for the fur trims.
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Only at the end of the segment did Roker cite the company as "controversial" because of the use of furs -- but then he spouted propaganda from the CEO of CG, claiming real fur is "warmer" than synthetic.  (An outright lie.)
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That there was no representative from HSUS or any other animal welfare/rights organization to speak for the animals brutalized and killed for these unnecessary products is affront to the principles of "both sides" balanced reporting on controversial issues. That free promotional advertising was presented as a "news report" was a mockery to journalism itself.
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(For an example of balanced reporting on the controversy of Canada Goose, please read this article and watch the videos from a credible and major UK news source:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2544075/Revealed-Chilling-cruelty-unspeakable-suffering-corporate-denial-Is-TRUE-cost-seasons-Canada-Goose-coat.html)
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One has to wonder where the Animal Rights movement has been during the explosion of goose down products over the past decade? (Not just Canada Goose products, but many others as well.)
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Is plucking and stripping live birds of their down feathers and killing them for unnecessary adornment no less grievous than trapping and killing animals for their fur?
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While there is still AR protest against the wearing of fur coats, one would be hard pressed to find any protests against down. 
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Yet, this winter and last, I could count on one hand, the number of people observed wearing real fur coats. But, I have probably passed millions wearing down coats and many thousands sporting Canada Goose and other down filled and fur trimmed products -- including the young man confronted a few nights ago.
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Perhaps I could be a little more "compassionate" towards the Canada Goose company and those wearing these garments of animal misery and death were their no comparable alternatives available.
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But, for the past two winters I have been wearing a parka, that while looking like a Canada Goose product, is completely man-made, including the synthetic faux fur trim around the hood. Though I have been out many times (and for hours at a clip) during snow storms and single-digit temperatures, not once have I felt a body chill through the coat nor so much as a breeze on my well protected head and neck.
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The claim that real fur is warmer and more protective than faux fur is completely false as well as the claim of down being warmer than synthetic fills. One only need look at the geese and ducks suffering throughout this brutal winter to know that down leaves much to be desired in terms of protection against brute force winds and cold.
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Tonight, I was back at the ice and snow covered Reservoir. I was nearly engulfed by desperate geese and ducks literally falling over themselves to get a small morsel of food.
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And once again, I was surrounded by curious onlookers with cameras and fascinated giggles as the frantic birds flew around and scrambled at my feet.
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But, the good news was, that no one was wearing a Canada Goose coat.
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There is just something about that bright red patch that makes one think of blood and guts and causes a shudder.   -- PCA
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Sunday, March 1, 2015

One Step Closer to the Gates of Spring


To make the heart soar.
One day at a time and one step closer to the gates of spring.
 
Some people's hearts fill when romantically in love.
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Some people's hearts fill with religion, church and other social or spiritual gathering.
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Some people's hearts fill with the laughter of children.
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Some people's hearts fill with poetry, great paintings or music.
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The above are all wonderful and positive human experiences. But my heart particularly fills when seeing the geese and ducks -- most notably in flight, but anytime and in any way.
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Still, it hasn't been easy seeing the geese and mallards over the past month. Because what I am mostly seeing has been struggle, desperation and even death. But, I have also seen awe-inspiring forbearance and stoicism.  
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It's been a strange and at times, ironic experience because winter is normally my favorite season (by far) of the year -- especially in Central Park.  I love the peace and solitude of winter. I love the mystery and awe of the migratory birds who stay here during the deepest parts of the season. I even love the brisk, invigorating weather and the snow.
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But, this winter has been too much of a good thing. The bitter temperatures have been unrelenting with snow never getting chance to thaw, but rather building upon itself. The dense ice pack covering the running path at the CP Reservoir is so rock solid as to appear part of the landscape. One forgets that there was ever soft ground beneath it.
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As for the Reservoir itself, one forgets that it was ever water, as opposed to a frozen and unforgiving icescape -- a deathbed for some of the misfortunate.
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How hard have these few months been for the birds enduring what is described as the "third coldest winter in New York City?" 
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Ice covered grounds and watercourses cut off food availability. Starvation is never a pleasant prospect for any animal. And at least 8 of the birds have succumbed to the ravages of starvation at the Reservoir alone this past month. This particularly, has been painful to witness.  
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No, the weather in New York City has not been the nightmare that its been in Boston, Buffalo or around the Great Lakes. We (thankfully) did not get more than 100 inches of snow.
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We've just had the big and merciless chill. -- A chill and food shortage the birds were not prepared for in the mild winters that preceded the last two.
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"Wolfing it down" is a popular phrase to describe those who quickly eat food.
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But, it's hard to imagine any wolf eating more ravenously than what I have seen ducks and geese do over the past few months.  
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Any food tossed out is seemingly gone before it even hits the ice.
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"Ducking it down" seems the far more accurate phrase to describe fast -- or more precisely, urgent and necessary eating. The fast disappearing food sometimes makes me feel that I'm not doing enough to supplement the birds; that I am simply doing the bare minimum.
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And yet my heart fills when seeing them for I know it's another day that they have somehow and miraculously made it through. 
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Some people's hearts fill with romance and love dreams.
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Some people's spirits soar in thoughts of the after world.
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Some are warmed by the joy and antics of children.
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And some are moved by the wise words and creations of the great scholars and artists.
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All are great joys to the human soul.
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But, my heart and spirits soar when seeing my winged friends fly to me in enthusiastic fever. They welcome and graciously accept my gifts regardless of how pathetic and small.
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It is all simply to help get them through another day of icy winter and one step closer to the gates of spring -- where independence, romance and life anew impatiently await.  -- PCA
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