WESTVILLE – Walter Agnew stands still as the tree beside him, hand open with a fistful of seeds freely offered.
A crisp wind blows and he lets out a soft, short whistle to beckon the chickadees to leave their perches in the pine and swoop in for a snack.
The chickadees hop, flutter then flit down. This is a man they trust.
Since moving there about nine years ago, Agnew has transformed his eight-acre property in Westville into a bit of a bird sanctuary with feeders set up around his home to keep the birds well fed through winter – and throughout the year for that matter. To be entirely accurate, he doesn’t just feed them, he befriends them.
This month Agnew is sharing his passion with the nation through a story that has been published in the Reader’s Digest magazine, More of Our Canada. Agnew says he was honoured to be chosen to share his love after entering a photo contest with the magazine.
He said the interest in feeding birds for him really started in the early 1980s when he was in Stellarton. One cold day, much like the ones Pictou County residents been having this week, he said he was out filling a feeder with sunflowers when some dropped onto the snow below. Almost instantly a flock of pine sisken started to gobble them up.
Pleasantly surprised by their bravery, Agnew decided to test their tameness a bit more by leaning down and stroking their backs while they ate. To his delight they stayed.
“This is pretty neat,” he thought to himself. “Maybe I can start feeding the birds and attracting them to eat out of my hands.”
Sure enough, with time and patience he’s succeeded in getting numerous types of birds to come take seeds from his hand.
“I find that if the birds see other birds eating out of your hand there’s a chance they might try it too,” he said.
He now enjoys talking walks through the woods on his property and watching as half a dozen birds follow him. They know in his pockets are seeds and peanuts cut up and ready to be shared.
“A lot of them will not set on your hand and feed,” he said. “They’ll take a seed, fly off poke it in a hole of a tree and come back. They know where they have hid that seed.”
He also has a feeder set up with cracked corn and enjoys watching the ducks come up to eat.
“It’s not long in the spring before there are nine young ones trailing behind them,” he said.
Aside from interacting with them, Agnew also enjoys photographing the birds and has a feeder set up near one of the windows in his home for just such a purpose.
“The problem with photographing birds is they’re not a subject that sits still very well,” he said.
Through it all, Agnew says he’s built a bond with the birds and feels blessed to have a property that draws the birds. He said when he feeds the birds he’s reminded of a verse in the Bible that instructs the reader to “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”
Each day he feeds the birds, he believes he’s doing divine work.
“God uses me to care for and feed his birds,” he said. “Imagine that.”