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Tue, Oct. 22

Column: Grape jelly-eating birds part of circle of life

Do you like grape jelly? If so, come on over to my house, because this time of year I buy two-pound jars by the case. Oh, and don't bother to bring the peanut butter. I give the jelly to the biggest jelly eaters of all time - Orioles. Yes, they are back. Bullock, Hooded and Scott's orioles have found their way back to my little feeding station in Skull Valley. Flying thousands of miles, the Bullocks come from Costa Rica, just to have babies in the big trees around my house and to gobble up grape jelly. Lots of it.

Several years ago I noticed the beautiful orange and black birds hanging around the hummingbird feeders. They kept trying to get at the juice. After reading up, I got a few liquid oriole feeders and filled them with orange nectar. All day the orioles would drink at my feeders. Then I read that they liked grape jelly and ordered a dainty little feeder that had two small cups about the size of shot glasses that I filled with jelly. I discovered that orioles LOVE grape jelly.

What started out as a few orioles enjoying the juice and jelly, has turned into a major feeding operation. Forget those silly little shot glasses! I need trays of jelly! I suppose the original colony of orioles told all of their friends that there is a place in Skull Valley with delicious treats, because all day long dozens and dozens of them hover around the hanging jelly trays. The birds arrive in April, build their nests, have their babies and do nothing but eat for three months. Then in late July they move on, making the long journey back to Costa Rica.

Is the coffee I am drinking destroying the birds' habitat? I used to love coffee from Costa Rica, but since I am trying to educate myself on where our food and products come from, I have stopped buying it. Birds need shade and I don't need java that is ruining their natural environment. So maybe a little orange and black winged friend has increased my awareness. But then I worry about where all those grapes for the jelly are coming from. My girlfriend says the tons of grape jelly I feed the birds is diminishing the wine supply!

Scientists say we are all connected and the planet is one huge ecosystem that is inter-related. That's why we are trying to become better citizens and recycle, use less plastic, be aware of gas emissions, reduce waste and pollution. I went to the grocery store and a lady lectured me because I didn't have a cloth bag for my groceries and told me that those little plastic bags are "ruining the environment and choking to death birds and animals." My neighbor says that if we don't recycle we are the devil and my grandson says we need to make a "smaller footprint" and stop messing up the planet. I am making a better effort.

Maybe there is more we can learn from our feathered friends. They have a purpose. They have a destination and know where they are going. They live their lives with duty, perseverance and passion. They are born to follow their "path" and will not be persuaded to alter their course. They stay together, build a comfy nest, learn from each other, nurture their young, feed, comfort and care for their babies in a tireless manner. And when it is time to go, they leave. No long goodbyes.

I have been thinking about bird travel. No cellphones, maps, GPS to guide them. They have harrowing and dangerous flight paths, stormy weather, long trips made with constantly beating wings. Sometimes the mature males arrive first in Skull Valley, then followed by the girls. The boys often leave first. How will they ever find each other? How do they fly so far and never seem to get lost?

Have you ever been lost? Yes, I guess we all have found ourselves driving around, looking for someplace that seems to escape us. We might stop for directions, reset our GPS or try harder to pay attention. I am a realtor and have found myself lost many times, especially in the rural areas. When a client says, "Just look for the big tree at the end of the lane, you cannot miss the house," it usually spells trouble. Of course, I can miss it! Which makes me wonder, how do so many orioles find their way back to my Ash tree that sits close to the feeders? Like a beacon of light guiding them, they seem to navigate their way to my tree with only one purpose - to get their daily dose of jelly.

The world can be a scary place, filled with conflicts and tensions. When the birds arrive it is cause for celebration, because it shows that the earth is spinning on its proper axis and order has been restored. With Spring, we are reminded of the beauty of nature. We only have to look out our windows to see the miracles of life. Birds coming back to grace our feeders, to sing their songs, eat our jelly, lay their eggs and have their babies. So for three very special months, I have the privilege of going through about two pounds of grape jelly a day!

If you see an orange cloud in the southwest sky, do not be alarmed. It is just my orioles. Dear Readers, stop on by and maybe bring a jar of peanut butter, because lunch could be waiting.

Judy Bluhm is a writer and a local Realtor who lives in Skull Valley. Have a story or a comment? Email Judy at

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