Doing nothing is sometimes hardest thing to do

Baltimore Oriole

“To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter … to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring – these are some of the rewards of the simple life.” 

— John Burroughs 

For the second summer in a row, our lives here on the top of this hill have been made more colorful by the visiting Baltimore Orioles. 

Last year, toward the end of May, I looked up and saw a bright orange male oriole perched on my living room window, peering into our living room. It was breathtaking to see this gorgeous bird so close, acting quite at home. 

Drawing orioles

Before the day was over, I went in search of two bright orange oriole feeders. I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to see that lovely fellow — and hopefully some of his kin — as many more times as possible. I placed one feeder on the east side of the house, and another on the west side. I stocked up on naval oranges, mealworms and grape jelly. 

There was not one bit of doubt after just a few days. It was the jelly that did the best job of drawing the orange beauties. Now, grape jelly will likely always be a constant on the grocery list through the songbird hosting months. 

It’s such a simple thing, and worth every penny. Orioles are entertaining in song and in presence. These bright birds add to the joy of a summer day simply by showing up once in a while. It was even better to see a group of three or more waiting their turn at the grape jelly within minutes of a fresh spoonful dropped in the glass bowl. 


Reading the reports about birds turning up ill, suffering from an unknown disease that is causing blindness and debilitating neurological issues, has been horrifying. Sick and dying songbirds in the Mid-Atlantic, Southeast and Upper Midwest have made the news, but it is alarming to me that many people haven’t heard a thing about it. 

We have been advised to stop feeding the birds, in hopes of cutting down on large gatherings. No more grape jelly, no birdseed and experts advise us to scrub bird baths with bleach water between filling, all in hopes of sending the songbirds out into the wild for what they need. It is a sort of forced social distancing of the vulnerable, in order to keep them safe. 


In the 1960s, the Eastern bluebird was on the verge of extinction, and two men who I’ve known all my life took it upon themselves to build hundreds of nesting boxes in hopes of bringing those beauties back. Johnny Baker, now deceased, and Earl Hardy were good-hearted neighbors in the Jeromesville area who looked for the perfect places to place their bird boxes. 

The bonus is that they so willingly helped answer all the many questions people had. Just last week, I was so happy to hear from Johnny’s grandson, Jared, telling me he has nine bluebird eggs waiting to be hatched in one of his grandfather’s old bird boxes. The nesting boxes have traveled a few miles — from Ohio to Jared’s home in South Carolina. 

This young man is making his grandfather proud, all these years later, by nurturing the beautiful bluebird. 

As I cleaned and removed my oriole feeders, I hoped for answers as to what is blinding and killing birds. The life of a bird can be a mighty hard one. We do what we can to increase their chance of survival. This summer we are learning that sometimes the hardest thing to do is to do nothing at all.


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.



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