Saturday, April 5, 2008

Pépé’s Bistro

My husband (sometimes known as “Pépé”) runs a collection of bird feeders in the backyard. I use the word “run” because it is much like running a restaurant, catering to the needs and desires of the crowd of LBBs (Little Brown Birds) who spend hours loading calories to make it through our -40 weather. The bird feeders are collectively known as “Pépé’s Bistro.”

Pépé’s has proven so popular this year that ptarmigan have flocked there to indulge in its delights. We've seen ptarmigan at the bird feeders before, but nothing like this. I am talking about a lot of ptarmigan - like a couple dozen at a time. And they've been around for weeks now. Some of them are starting to change colour - you can spot dark feathers on the throat or back of the head. Not that the snow is showing any sign of melting, so the poor little blighters could find their natural camouflage is out of sync with their surroundings.

Ptarmigan, for those of you who don’t know, are cute, chubby birds that look like medium-sized lumps of snow. They can fly, but often prefer to walk. The snow in our back yard is now patted down by the prints of their feather-covered feet. (Yes, it looks like they’re wearing little booties.) They moult in the spring, with brownish feathers growing in, which helps them blend in on the tundra. Heaven knows they need the protection - it's not like they survive because of their street smarts.

Ptarmies are cute, but they're dumb little bunnies. Many a time I’ve come across a flock wandering down the street, and have had to honk (loudly) to get them to move out of the way. (Duh.) Other drivers are not as patient, and those ptarmies that end up as roadkill contribute to the caloric intake of another classic northern bird - the raven.

Speaking of ravens and ptarmigan - as soon as my collection of short stories finds a publisher, you’ll be able to (re)read my short story “The Yellowknife Yeti” and my take on ptarmigan and ravens.

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