One of the best things to come out of the year-long lockdown is Safe Start Permits, an SDOT program that allows restaurants to occupy sidewalk-and-curb space. The program is imperfect, of course (the permits should simply capture streets/parking spaces and liberate sidewalks), but it has certainly transformed the outdoor dining experience in neighborhoods such as Capitol Hill, Columbia City, Queen Anne, and Ballard.
Though the city council only extended the program through May 31, 2022, it is likely here to stay. Our age is one that is becoming exhausted with the huge sums of money and vast amounts of urban pleasures that are tossed into the bottomless and carbon-liberating hole that automobile infrastructure maddeningly demands.
And what have we to say today (on a finally cloudy day) about these little bitty brown birds that I've identified as house finches? (I thought they were bushtits, but their beaks don't match.) It seems they have found a new niche in an area of nature that's been transformed by a pattern-change in human urban culture.
The niche was not there in any meaningful way before the pandemic. But things changed very quickly for humans. They found themselves needing to be, in social contexts, outdoors more than indoors; they began eating on tables set on the sidewalks, parking spaces, closed streets. And so suddenly there was an abundance of what the New Testament pauper, Lazarus, longed to fall from the master's table: crumbs. The opportunity presented by this niche seemed to dissolve whatever fear house finches had of humans. Indeed, they do not even wait for humans to eat, settle bills, and go. They move right on in and begin eating under the table on which humans are eating.
I have even seen a bold finch say "fuck it," and then hop-fly-hop right into a restaurant for the crumbs of indoor tables. The crows, of course, can watch these little birds with excruciating envy. They have to sit and wait at a distance. They make those awful throaty noises that please only them. What about us, they say? What about you, we say, as chomped bits of energy-rich foods trip and fall from our lips and fingers? For crows, humans are still dangerous. Rats, of course, must keep completely out of sight until the humans are gone.
But, after all, what is a house finch? Let's review some of the animal's key aspects as described on BirdWeb.org.
House Finches are native to open and desert habitats, but have expanded their range, naturally and through introductions, and now can be found in almost any kind of human-altered habitat. They prefer edge habitat and are absent from dense coniferous forests.
Flocks of House Finches are common at bird feeders during the non-breeding season. Some flocks may stay together through the breeding season as well, and birds will use bird feeders year round. They often forage on the ground, but also perch on weeds, shrubs, or trees. Both males and females may sing during the breeding season, and males sing year round.
House Finches are monogamous [and, as such, are value voters, like penguins].
The vast majority of the House Finch's diet is vegetable matter—seeds, buds, berries, and nectar. They feed their young regurgitated seeds. They eat a few small insects, especially aphids, but are primarily seed- and fruit-eaters at all times of the year.
No mention of crumbs here. But nature never stays the same when there is in it some major (or even minor) change. This has happened with post-lockdown outdoor dining. It has changed the city, and therefore the life of the city.
Note: The bird kind in this post has also been identified as a House Sparrow. But what do I know about birds?