There are no trash birds

Published 9:49 pm Tuesday, January 21, 2020

By Biff and Susan Andrews

So you’re drifting the lower James River in a boat, get a strike, and reel in … an oyster toad, or a sea robin, or a small skate. Your reaction? Trash fish!

Really? Did God create fish that are worthless? Blow toads? Bullheads? Eels? Let’s not assume that the Almighty created a useless creature. Let us, rather, cherish each of God’s creations as the beautiful marvels they are.

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This is especially true in the bird kingdom. There are no trash birds!

We run about a dozen bird feeders — four or five suets, four or five sunflower seeds, miscellaneous mealy worms, thistle seed, “songbird mix,” etc. And we put out some of Wakefield Peanuts’ finest “Wildlife Nuts.” And cracker crumbs. And vegetable peelings. And fruit odds and ends. The place fairly quivers with critters, day and night. And not one of them is a “trash” anything.

A junco is not a cardinal. A sparrow is not a goldfinch. A purple finch is not a yellow-bellied sapsucker, nor will they ever be. But each is a marvel in its own right. We see bald eagles (two last week, a mama and babe), chickadees, pileated woodpeckers and tufted titmice, and they are all wonderful. Each has his niche in the pantheon. Each individual bird has the capacity to amaze us.

We’ve seen a lowly mockingbird chasing a 6-foot black snake away from its nest. We’ve watched a flock of cedar waxwings completely strip a holly tree of red berries in about six hours of gorging. Tiny chickadees — (black-capped or Carolina?) afraid of huge murmurations of black birds? Not if they have a hungry chick to feed!

Think crows are “trash birds”? Do some research on their intelligence. They can recognize human faces after years of absence and remember if they’re “friend or foe.”

Yes, geese and vultures and starlings can infest an area and cause health problems. Yes, pigeons and doves can be dirty birds around your car in the parking lot. But … trash?

And they’re all beautiful. Line. Color. Pattern. Each species is unique. God put Audubon, Sibley and Roger Tory Peterson on Earth to allow us to see at length what normally flashes by in an instant. Look closely at a downy woodpecker, bluejay, or a cedar waxwing. But their beauty does not diminish the plainer juncos or sparrows. There are no trash birds.

Am I a “trash human” because I don’t look like Brad Pitt?

 Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at