Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Eat Like a Bird!

(Cross-posted at my cooking blog. Because I'm too lazy to put up two separate posts.)

This Northern Parula flew 1,000 miles or more across the Gulf of Mexico – without stopping, eating, or sleeping – before landing in Florida during spring migration. This grueling flight took him somewhere between 18 and 25 hours.

Before setting off on this flight, he spent some serious time fueling up. In the days leading up to his trip, he piled on the calories, ballooning from a lithe 1 ounce or less to a staggeringly obese 2 ounces – virtually doubling in weight. Wired graphically described this phenomenon of avian gluttony as “the equivalent of having a hamburger for lunch on Monday, and 100 hamburgers for lunch on Friday.”

When Mammy told Scarlett O’Hara to eat like a bird, this probably wasn’t what she had in mind.

Those of us who enjoy watching birds also pick up strange eating habits during migration. These usually involve consuming large quantities of coffee before sunrise, feeding from ziplock bags filled with trail mix, and toting energy bars bent and flattened from hours in our back packets. Like our avian quarry, birders focus on high-protein, high-energy natural food sources when on the road. Birder snacks of choice usually involve nuts, seeds, whole grains, and/or fruit, often scented with hints of bug spray, sunscreen, and car exhaust. On the other hand, migrating songbirds – even some that typically eat seed – favor the high-calorie goodness of insects and their larvae, food sources most birders tend to avoid.

Still, our eating habits can be frighteningly similar. When shopping for bird seed for my backyard feeders recently, I saw a shiny little bowl filled with freshly shelled Brazil nuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds and unusually fat raisins. I was about to help myself to few bites when I realized it was sample of one of the store’s specialty birdseed mixes.

And it looked better by magnitudes than most of the cheap-ass trail mix I’ve lugged around on birding trips. The woodpeckers around here eat better than I do.

My husband and I joke that someday, we’ll have to buy a bag of that super-fancy fruit-nut mix, pour some into a pretty bowl, and feed it to our birder buddies. My prediction is that they’ll think it looks familiar, but assume it’s that pricey brand of organic snack mix they never quite felt like splurging on.

And since it’s near the end of another spring migration season and my Audubon chapter is holding its annual end-of-the-birding-year potluck soon, the occasion for our little experiment is now upon us! MWAAHAHA!

Seriously, I’m not going to do it. But I will do something very much like it. As a tribute to those hard-working birds and my friends who love them, I devised a munchable treat with the same base ingredients as that fancy bird mix – peanuts, raisins, sunflower seeds, and bigger, blingier nuts of some kind. And millet, because almost all birdseed mixes contain copious amounts of it. But being a good citizen, I resisted the urge to take these from a 25-pound bag with NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION printed on it.

Because just plain old nuts and raisins mixed together seem kind of abstemious, particularly for a festive occasion, I spiced them them up and converted them into a sweet-salty-tangy-spicy cocktail nibble. I’ve always been addicted to Indian snack mixes – exhuberently spicy blends of fried grains, nuts, dried fruit, and spices – and I’ve modeled the seasoning in my mix after these. The recipe on which I base my spice mix comes from Madhur Jaffrey's World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking.


troutbirder said...

Great and informative post. I love that Northern Parula pics as I'd never seen one before two years ago and our first ever visit to Florida (Ding Darling NWR. Come to find out they breed in the boreal pine forests of northern Minnesota. We live in the southern part of that state.

Felicia said...

@troutbirder--Thanks! Northern Parulas nest down here, too--they tend to arrive about a month before the other warblers start passing through. Hope you get to see more of them!

Anonymous said...

That's similar to the trail mix I take on birding trips. I cut the following ingredients into quarters: powdered donuts, Snickers bars, and Little Debbie Swiss Rolls, then add M&Ms. A nutritious high-energy treat!

Felicia said...

@Anonymous--amazing what people do to keep their sugar levels up while birding!

Nardsle Borbon said...