Our suburban backyard does not boast a pool or a hot tub or a swing set, but it does have bird feeders. Right outside our breakfast nook, I can see a small birdbath and two suet feeders. The combination of water and food ensures that birds will visit on a regular basis. We see robins, sparrows, catbirds, and jays. We see cardinals, chickadees, tufted titmice, and finches. We see pigeons, mocking birds, wrens, and doves. We see downy woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers, red breasted woodpeckers, and flickers. Each bird has its own habits. Some prefer to eat early, while others show up later. Some are brave and chase away much larger birds if it is their turn at the feeder. Others are timid, flitting in for a brief dip in the water and a quick bite of suet. Some are comic, jumping between the two feeders and the nearby bushes. Their voices range from the chipping of the cardinal to the mimics of the mockingbird. A tiny investment provides endless hours of entertainment.
Some birdwatchers keep life lists, travel to exotic locations to boast a sighting of a rare species. While I do pay attention when I travel to the local flora and fauna, I haven’t used a bird as an excuse to visit a particular environment, and I do not have a list of all the birds I’ve seen. I prefer a more casual approach. Sure, we have a couple of guide books, but those are to help identify the outliers, the birds who only come to the feeder on occasion, or the ones we spot on walks. Birdwatching is not an obsession.
Birdwatching allows me to look outside, to take a deep breath, to take stock of the world. As the birds come to the feeder, I notice what is going on in nature on those absolutely normal days that are far from ordinary. The days, the months, the seasons go by too quickly if I do not take the time to really absorb what is going on. The birds force me to notice the changes that happen every day. Lilacs and lily of the valley have been replaced by columbine and peonies. The maples are putting out helicopters in the May breeze. The backyard is full of violets and buttercups. Without the movement of the birds to draw my eyes outdoors, I miss too much.
One of my favorite poems by Wordsworth begins with these lines:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
When I watch my birds, my heart is connected to Nature (yes, with a capital N), and I forget about the world and its pressure to get and spend. I’m a happier person, a more relaxed person, a nicer person to be around.
I just noticed a goldfinch at the feeder. It’s time for me to pay attention to the birds.