Our annual “Spring Banquet” for the local wildlife went off without a hitch this past weekend. Everyone came.

This will be the fifth year my husband and I have laid out a special spread at winter’s end. We don’t actually wait for the official first day of spring, because the birds and other backyard critters are especially grateful for hand-outs in the cold, not when the bugs and berries are out.

Basically, what we do is to go through our cupboards and fridge looking for foodstuffs stored over the winter that have proven popular and healthy for furry and feathered creatures. We have discovered, for example, that Cheerios are welcome, Wheaties are not. Don’t ask me why, but the bird experts generally say cereal is okay. We draw the line at Fruit Loops, though.

None of this stuff could go to a human food bank, by the way, because the packages had already been opened or exceeded their expiration dates.

Nuts are always a favorite in our house, and we were able to fill a large can with peanuts, cashews, almonds, pistachios and scraps of pecans. We washed the nuts to get rid of the salt. We found a box of ancient grain baked crackers containing golden millet, amaranth, quinoa and teff, which sounded exciting, but the “ferric pyrophosphate” turned us off. We also found some stuffing mix from last Thanksgiving, which looked appetizing with all the dried bread and herbs, but nothing but dust poured out of the package. Oh, well.

The freezer yielded some interesting goodies, and we examined them carefully for wildlife edibility. We didn’t think the frozen bag of croissants would do any harm, after being microwaved. Crows and squirrels particularly like the aroma.

Christmas cookies? Okay, we decided, once we scraped off the little red and silver balls. The oatmeal and raisin giants always do well, great fun watching a squirrel try to get one up a tree.

Then there was the package of Lefse from my Norwegian relatives in Wisconsin. Lefse is flat bread made of potatoes, flour, butter, cream, salt and sugar. Unfortunately, the package showed a tinge of green inside, so we tossed it.

And we can’t forget the Lutefisk, also a Norwegian holiday treat. Lutefisk is a dried white fish, normally cod that has been soaked in very cold water for a couple of weeks and then a few days in lye. That ingredient set off alarms, so we tossed the Lutefisk as well..

We had amassed a pretty good stash. Once we had set the banquet date, when it was forecast that nothing would fall from the sky (Saturday, March 15), it was time to set the table.

With guests that fly, jump, dive, climb, crawl and waddle, the layout is important so that everyone gets a fair share. This, of course, is optimistic, because in fact no one shares. Each species has its pushy ones, too. We have given up on trying to maintain order among our guests and just enjoy the show.

Invitations are not a problem, as we rely on the crow community to be town criers. When they first see us begin to distribute the food in bird feeders and pie plates on the deck, the “caw” goes out.

As usual, the black-capped chickadees arrived first – noisy and energetic. We knew the party was officially under way when the first male cardinal swooped down in his blazing robes. Then came the morning doves, which looked like a gaggle of nuns.

Blue jays, those avian Spitfires, dive-bombed the group. Jays seem to coordinate their hunt, like those raptors in Jurassic Park, with one or two swooping down for food before the next sortie flies in. Sparrows also joined the fun, with each coming in for a seed or small nut and then disappearing into the trees.

The chipmunks surprised us by jumping and cavorting as much as the squirrels, but their larger cousins got the lion’s share. We recognized two of our favorite guests from previous years, an older female Chipmunk we call Daisy and a brash younger male named Scooter. They live in a drain pipe up the road. Daisy would scrounge for 20 minutes until her pouches looked like saddle bags, while Scooter, who can jump 10 lengths of himself at a time, just grabbed and ran.

As the day wore on, the crows become more brazen. They may have been the initial announcers but were cautious about joining the feeding frenzy. They started landing away from the table and then walking up to feed, but they spooked easily.

As afternoon dissolved into night, visitors become sparser, and we retired for the night. Although we had the leaf blower at the ready for the morning clean-up, the deck was surprisingly neat following the day-long bacchanalia. I suppose we have the raccoons to thank for that.

With the banquet done for another year, we’ll revert to planters and baskets for the humming birds. Given the persistence of the winter, however, who knows when that will be.

– Susan Aiken 03/19/14