Birds at My Window
Birdwatching, with cats
by Gloria Gaynor
From the March, 2019 issue
I haven't always loved birds. For about the first fifty-five years of my life, I was ambivalent about them. Then, in 2005, I moved into a condo community surrounded by trees, marshy areas, and open land. My condo backed up to a pond, and I had a deck. I began to see and hear more birds, becoming aware of the many species and their beauty. My second winter there, I put up feeders.
My cats--Keroppi, Zorro, and Neptune--immediately agreed that feeding the birds was a great idea. All day long they jockeyed for the puddles of sunlight that moved across the room, watching the birds come and go, chattering at them and slowly coiling and uncoiling their tails in anticipation of striking. Though that opportunity never came, they never tired of watching.
Like the cats, I grew to love the birds at my window. Finches, grackles, downy and hoary woodpeckers, red-winged blackbirds, chickadees, nuthatches, juncos, and many varieties of sparrows--on and on the list grew.
After I retired in 2012, I had more time to watch them come and go. By this time I had several types of feeders--sock tubes for the finches, tray feeders, and hummingbird feeders in the summer. In the depths of winter, when the temperatures and winds were brutal, I scattered as much food as I could afford on top of the snow to help them survive.
During a bitter intrusion of the polar vortex, I awoke to find dead birds on the deck. I was sad but also awed when I lifted them gently to dispose of them. They weighed no more than ounces, these feathered things of beauty that carried my spirits to the clouds. They are so small, yet strong, some migrating hundreds or even thousands of miles. I learned a lot about life from birds: even when the struggle is difficult, persevere.
In the summer of 2013, I started volunteering at the Bird Center of Washtenaw County. They
rescue all species of small birds, and a few larger ones, in an old, ramshackle brick building on Mary Ct., working around the clock to feed, heal, and raise them until they can be released back into nature.
That summer I held baby birds smaller than the end of my thumb, featherless, and very hungry, feeding them drops of liquid. These youngest-of-the-young have to be fed every twenty minutes for at least eighteen to twenty hours a day. It gave me even greater respect for the bird mothers and fathers who struggle to feed their young.
Some days I would show up for my shift only to find that an entire nest full of the tiniest birds had not survived. There were also, thankfully, many successes. By the end of that summer I was even more in awe of the birds--and of the people who care for them.
By then I was down to only two cats, having lost Keroppi to old age. In 2015 I moved my two remaining cats and my dog to a new home not nearly as bird friendly. There were lots of outdoor cats there, as well as many squirrels who, no matter what I did, raided the feeders. I eventually stopped trying--I couldn't afford to feed the birds and the squirrels! Not having birds to watch made all of us a little sad.
In 2016 I lost Zorro to old age. Down to one, Neptune. I think, of the three, he loved the birds the most. I realized we needed to find a new place to live, and we moved again in October of 2017.
Such excitement! Lots of trees and birds all around, and, finally, a patio where I could feed them. Neptune happily watched "his" birds from a perch by the patio door or the window seat, where I had installed a suction-cup feeder on the outside of the glass.
Birds at the feeder. Smiling cat in the window. Listening to the birds, watching them feed, and enjoying Neptune's joy made me happier, too.
Then, in February last year, his health started to fail. He was, after all, about eighty-four years old--seventeen of our years. I knew I would lose him soon and my heart began to break. We spent many hours snuggled on the window seat as he slowed even more.
When spring finally arrived, he was able to enjoy sitting in the sunshine on the patio, the one thing he may have loved more than watching birds. Of course, he could also watch birds out there--they just didn't come as close.
Finally, one Saturday, he had his final trip to the vet. We sat in the window there, watching the birds, as I held him in my arms. We walked outside one last time and listened to the birds chatter, chirp, and tweet, his tail still twitching in delight.
At last, it was time to let him go. I held him as he took his final breaths, and then he was still.
I still find it difficult to be without him. My home is so quiet now--he was a very talkative cat. But sometimes, as I walk past the window seat, I can see him sitting there, watching intently, the birds at my window.
Farewell, gray kitty.
Sleep deeply with no worries. Dreaming of your birds.
[Originally published in March, 2019.]
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