It’s a regular sunny Monday at Oak Bay Marina – a day local residents have come to love.
Not just human ones though; this is one day the seagulls and crows look forward to most.
Some days, Jim Barry doesn’t even have to get out of his car for the birds to spot him in the parking lot, just before the Marina Coffee House opens.
They flit above his vehicle waiting for him to get out. When he does, crows wait in nearby trees while the seagulls swarm above.
The birds aren’t usually shy with their requests. Typically, passers-by gawk at the shenanigans as some seagulls swoop to catch the treats while others rest on Barry’s head, shoulders or knees when he’s sitting.
“I can’t stand pigeons, though,” Barry says. “They dump on everything.”
Locals regard Barry as a bit of an institution when it comes to nurturing the flying inhabitants of Oak Bay. The soft-spoken 83-year-old has been making this part of his routine for a handful of years. He says he took over the role when an older woman, also known around the area for feeding birds, died. Yet Barry, who has lived in the area since he was seven, knows about a lot more than birds.
“Oak Bay used to be a place you had to know someone to get somewhere.” As a child, he says, he collected golf balls at Victoria Golf Club and caddied for a number of people who thought they were very important.
When he started playing golf as a teenager, thanks to a relationship he’d formed with the owner of the club, senior players would often give him a hard time. I might be 16, he would tell them, but I’ve got two arms, two legs and a lot of golf balls, so buzz off.
“The biggest change I’ve seen in this town is that there are a lot more rich people now. There were rich people then, but more now,” he says. “I’ve always liked birds.”
Barry meets regularly at the Marina Coffee House with a handful of old-time friends from the community, including former Oak Bay fire chief Gerry Adam, to reminisce and catch up on news. He gets there early enough to reserve their favourite table, orders his $5 drink with a $5 tip to the barista and tells her no hurry. There’s plenty of time until his wife will be by to pick him up.
It’s a routine he’s grown attached to. He could come every day, he says, but most weeks he makes it down Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the birds. Which, by the way, he calls people.
“I feed anything,” he says. “There are times I have 20, 30, 40 people (birds) around me, flying all over my head, waiting for me. They get used to you.”
Barry used to take the stairs down to the rocky shore near the marina and play country music, his favourite, from a portable radio. The birds would follow him down, all the while anticipating peanuts, bread and any treats that would make their way out of his pocket. These days, he typically corrals them in the parking lot, after he hurt his knee in a fall.
“They really do get to know you and trust you,” he says. “You stand out here with a piece of bread long enough and, you watch, they’ll come get it right from you, too.”