We, the general public, the ordinary people of New Zealand, who love our money and rarely seem to have enough of it, spend, every year, come war or depression, come earthquakes or taxes, come, indeed, what bloody may, just over $100 million on - are you ready for this now? - feeding the birds.
These are not birds that we fatten up to kill and eat ourselves, thereby getting some return on our investment. They are wild birds, birds too small and bony to make good eating, birds that just take our money and fly.
Furthermore most of these birds are imported species - sparrows, finches, starlings, blackbirds - that have learned over millennia to put up with human beings as neighbours, and to accept, when it is offered, our generosity, while many of the native birds of these islands have found it harder to live alongside us and have either gone extinct or have withdrawn to the ever shrinking bush. But that is by the by.
Now, $100 million is a remarkable sum, for three reasons. One, for its size. Two, for the fact that I made it up. And three, for the fact that you're still reading. This latter may be explained partly by your having become numb to statistics in newspapers, 81 per cent of which are invented, but also because $100 million on bird food doesn't seem implausible.
We do indeed spend lots of money on feeding the birds. And by we I mean I. For I have just made and stocked a bird table. And I am proud of it.
It is a two-storey, cantilevered affair with hooks to hang feeders and fat balls from, spikes to spike fruit and a tray for loose feed, and I have bolted the whole shebang to the guard rail of my deck so that I can see it from the kitchen window. And in this I am following a family tradition.
My mother, aged 96, is now in a nursing home in the unrelenting grip of dementia. But for 30 years or so, starting at roughly the age that I am now, a bird table played an ever increasing part in her life.
She had it mounted in the garden in view of the sofa on which she habitually sat. Perhaps 20 species of birds visited summer and winter and she could name them all. Only one species was unwelcome, the wood pigeon - big and beautiful birds, similar to kereru, but my mother considered them greedy and messy. When a pigeon flew into view she would jump from the sofa and bang on the window to scare it off.
My mother tamed none of the birds that came to her table but two of them tamed her. A robin and a blackbird would both come to the back door and expect to be fed. When either appeared my mother would stop whatever she might be doing and crumble a piece of digestive biscuit from a packet she kept for that sole purpose. Both birds had names.
It is not hard to guess why this pleased her. She was accustomed to providing. She'd raised four kids in that house. Three had scattered and one was dead. Her husband too was dead. The house must have seemed very quiet, the days long. The birds were company of a sort and we all need company of a sort.
But there's more to birds than that. They never seem to age. You don't see any old or broken ones. Presumably the moment they cease to be anything less than faultless they can no longer compete and they drop from the sky. But how rarely we find a corpse. Birds seem to embody youth perpetual.
And we like them because they do not threaten us. Though birds are the direct descendants of the dinosaurs, and though they are as ruthlessly self-interested as any other life form, and though they commit countless murders of other creatures, we choose to see them as innocents. As pretty little singers of songs. As our feathered friends.
And thus they enable us to entertain a fantasy, a fantasy that is essential to our peace of mind. It is the fantasy of a benign natural world that gets along with us just as we get along with it.
A world where the lion lies down with the lamb, and the bird with the insect, and seven billion human beings are not a swarming threat to every other species on the planet.
And for that fantasy, that self-evident delusion, that assuager of guilt, a mere 100 million bucks seems like a bargain.