Jul 2, 2015 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, June 2015

Bird Watching with [Indoor] Cats

A female ruby-throated hummingbird sips from a salvia bloom.

I have my cat Goldilocks to thank for turning me into a bird watcher. My indoor-only window watcher needed some entertainment, and my husband Rich and I got her a birdfeeder. The feathered friends started showing up, and bird watching became a family hobby.

My website began as a photo gallery of our cats and Rich's favorite turtles. But as Goldilocks' life list grew, my blog became a record of the "customers" at our feeders.

The "customers" were demanding. Before long, I found myself digging up the sterile suburban grass and planting bird-friendly plants. Instead of putting up a fence, we planted a hedge. I spent hours at local nurseries in the "Butterfly and Hummingbird" sections, learning about flowering plants that would attract the elusive Florida hummingbirds. After several years, I was finally rewarded with the sight of my very first hummer!

Colorful male painted buntings are Jess Yarnell's favorite winter visitors.

The only thing that grew faster than the coral porterweed in my garden was my passion for bird photography. My 500mm lens ("the Beast") gives me the luxury of being able to observe birds without disturbing them. Through my lens I get to see every blue, red, and green feather of the painted buntings that visit each winter. I see the drab American goldfinches that arrive in mid-November, and watch as they transform into the sunny yellow messengers of spring. Even the common mourning doves are fun to photograph as they awkwardly fly and attempt to land on my feeder, the sound of their wings reminiscent of the words "Look out below!"

My backyard birds inspire in me what Rachel Carson called "a sense of wonder." What makes my hummingbird want to migrate when he has a whole yard full of nectar flowers? How does the baby cardinal go from a tiny naked hatchling to a fully independent bird in just a few short weeks? Where do my brown thrashers go after they fledge?

A pair of fledgling brown thrashers takes a dip in Jess Yarnell's birdbath.

Last year I was lucky enough to observe a sandhill crane nest near my yard, and I actually saw one of the colts hatch. From a respectful distance, I watched as the hatching colt used his beak to break his egg. He peeped the whole time as his head emerged, then his foot, and he took his first staggering step into the world. I received recognition in several photo contests for images of that precious family, but I’ll lose the blue ribbons long before I forget those birds' lessons of love, patience, and faithfulness.

My orange cat still sits tirelessly in the window watching her birds, and I too can sit for hours on end photographing a single bird. The ebb and flow of life that cycles through my backyard is fascinating. As a computer geek who writes software for a living, it’s very easy to get caught up in the daily stress of deadlines and technology. Birding is a wonderful escape into the world of nature, something we should all remember to appreciate—and protect.

About Jess Yarnell

Jess Yarnell is a software geek by day, and a nature photographer by weekend. She lives in Central Florida. Visit her blog at blog.catandturtle.net.

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  • I live in Southeastern Massachusetts. Four "orphaned" very young poults (males) showed up in my yard about a year ago. They have been around all year. I do feed them cracked corn, and they come when I call for them. I don't want to over- domesticate them, but they do recognize me as the lady that brings food. They roost in the big oak trees at night. I have a 1 acre lot, with many acres of protected forest out back and a pond on the property.Lately, during mating season, I have had hens in the yard too. We've counted as many as 7 Toms and hens, but today, had just the one stalwart (a very robust Tom) that comes everyday. One of the Toms that has recently made an appearance is wounded, limping with an obvious predator wound. The local wildlife experts say he should make a full recovery, and that he's best left to recover with his flock.I find them to be interesting and beautiful birds.
    by Heather Cole, Mon, 06 Apr 2020
  • You have to put food in it.
    by Truckee Man, Mon, 06 Apr 2020
  • Love listeningto both songs and calls from birds in our woody neighborhood. The two types of birds I immediately recognize are the cardinals and the chickadees. Yesterday afternoon too, I heard a woodpecker. Then it’s time to check the birdfeeders and the birdbath. Then In no time at all the cardinals and chickadees arrive, as if they had been watching me. As it gets busier around the feeders, I also hear thé screeching of the blue jays. I even saw a couple of robins checking out our lawn....spring has arrived as the last pat gesofisticeerde snow and ice melt away.
    by louisabt, Sun, 08 Mar 2020
  • I am wondering about existing nests for Phoebes. I have two outdoor aisle entries to my barn and there are old Phoebe nests up. They ignore them each year and build new nests adjacent to the old, but space is running out. Should I knock down the old nests so they can rebuild?
    by [email protected], Sun, 02 Feb 2020
  • Just wondering, should we put anything in the bottom of the box...twigs, clippings, leaves....anything at all?
    by Hebb, Tue, 28 Jan 2020