February 16, 2017

Retirement and Watching Birds Feed


What do retirement and birds feeding have to do with each other? Well, usually not much. I guess you could say that retirement gives someone the time and freedom to watch the bird feeder in the backyard, and that's true. But, that is not where this is going.

I was watching birds eat on a particular morning not too long ago. Nothing was out of the ordinary. Dozens of them flew into the yard at first light and swarmed the feeder, suspended on a pole 7 feet in the air.

Those that couldn't get a clawhold on the feeder's lip waited patiently on the walls.

After an appropriate amount of time (in bird-time), a new batch would flap to the feeder and push away those who were already feeding. This process repeated itself for at least 20 minutes. I  moved on to something else as most of my morning visitors flew off to start their day.

Before leaving my chair and heading inside, what suddenly became obvious was the way some of the birds acted. While the majority jostled for space on the feeder's bottom tray or waited their turn on the wall, a handful choose a different approach.



They were fully aware that the mass of hungry birds were knocking lots of seeds to the ground. These little fellows realized that their morning meal was available to them without fighting for position or waiting for space on the feeder; they just had to pick up the seed that had fallen to the ground. No battling for position, no flapping of wings, just an easy stroll on the lawn and around the flower pots. 

So, what was the lesson learned? What does this have to do with retirement? Simply that there are often different approaches to the same problem. One choice is to be with the crowd. There is safety in numbers. If we share we will get our portion in due course. We are social creatures that thrive as part of a group. 

The other choice is to see a different path, the path less chosen, to borrow a Robert Frost phrase. Rather than pick the obvious solution, some of us find greater satisfaction in going against the grain. We still reach our objective, just a little differently.

Importantly, neither is right or wrong. Both groups of birds ate their fill. The larger flock followed the expected pattern, ate, and moved on. The smaller crowd had to work a bit harder to find the fallen bird seed, but had less competition. Both groups flew off at the same time, onto wherever birds go to spend the rest of their morning.

Retirement can be like that pattern I watched that morning. We might approach a problem to be solved somewhat differently, but in the end we achieve our goal and move on.




18 comments:

  1. Was there a slight pun in mentioning "going against the grain" when suggesting that we could choose to be like the birds that picked up seeds on the ground.

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  2. Hello Bob,
    I love watching the birds in my garden. Yesterday I was treated with a hummingbird splashing around in the fountain.
    Did you see the "Biggest Surprises in Retirement" article in the Wall Street Journal this week? There's also a podcast on-line.
    Diane

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    1. Our previous home had lots of hummingbirds because we had the type of plants to attract them. AS we get our present house's backyard redone, i will be sure to get similar plants. Watching hummingbirds is fun.

      Yes, I saw that article and posted a link on both my Twitter account and the Satisfying Retirement Facebook page.

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    2. That was a great article. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. Deb has a lot of feeders out year-round, both the dry stuff for the cardinals et al, and the liquid variety for the hummingbirds. She tries to keep up with them all but sometimes they go quickly. If they do the birds will actually come up to our back doors and start to look in, sort of like an "excuse me, but the FEEDER IS EMPTY"!! If the liquid gets low or dirty the hummingbirds will actually start knocking on our windows with their beaks as they hover outside. Not sure if it is some metaphor as it relates to retirement, but it is funny to watch.

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    1. The flock that swarms our feeder goes through feed faster than I can keep it filled. For some reason the price of a large bag of birdseed more than doubled a week or so ago, so the birds in my backyard are on a diet.

      Occasionally one will fly into the patio door by mistake but never to demand more food!

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  4. I LOVE that! Many ancient sages gained their wisdom from simply watching nature. Also, there are martial arts styles that are based in nature--crane, tiger, eagle, mantis, monkey, to name a few. These styles originated from people watching these animals in nature and then imitating their attitude and movements. Notice that some of these styles are bird styles! You are onto something here!!

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    1. I am so glad you liked it! Sitting still and watching nature is an effective way to decompress. Now that the weather here has turned Spring-like I find myself looking for any excuse to go to a local riparian area and just sit.

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  5. I'm not a birdwatcher. Perhaps I should start, I might learn a few things. Thanks for the insight about taking a different approach.

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    1. I wouldn't know a particular species if it flew into my face. But, simply watching them fly and feed is relaxing.

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  6. We can learn all sorts of things by paying attention to the natural world. I liked the part about picking up the grain that fell to the ground instead of fighting for a place on the feeder pole. Another thing about birds that I've noticed is that they are very observant, constantly looking around for dangers and opportunities. My sister-in-law has her own flock of ravens that comes every morning about 7:30 AM to pick up the dry dog food that she throws off her deck for the foxes. These huge birds wait in the pine trees until they see her open the door and come out. It's almost funny to watch them, but clear that they have observed her pattern and adapted to it.

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    1. Basic survival instincts govern their behavior I am sure. The birds in our yard perch on the wall of the property, watching and waiting for their turn. It is actually rather democratic. They must know that if all 20 or 30 birds tried to perch on the feeder at once it just wouldn't work for any of them. So, they share.

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  7. There are two ways of looking at this. The first is that the birds feeding on the ground are taking it easy and not jostling with the others for food. The second is that feeding on the ground is a high risk strategy as you are much more exposed to predators like, say, the neighbour's cat. The birds waiting on the wall may well be thinking "I might have to wait a bit but at least I won't end up as someone else's lunch."

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    1. Sometimes taking the easy path is less satisfactory. Good observation, David.

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  8. You're watching the birds and I'm watching the deer each morning - mostly mule deer but the odd white tail. They are sometimes right at the foot of the stairs at the back door. I like watching them jump over the rail fence from a stand still or crawl under the bottom rail. They've eaten the ornamental onion in the perennial garden. I may not enjoy them so much in 4 months if they eat what grows in the vegetable garden!

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    1. Occasionally folks in this part of the country have problems with coyotes jumping fences and snatching small dogs. If given the choice, I'd pick Bambi as a visitor.

      Seriously, I imagine it is quite irritating when the deer do damage to your crops.

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  9. We love to bird watch in our backyard!

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