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 am excited to have my daughter’s tree this year, since my landlord has removed the lovely yew next to my patio, which was the only shelter for birds at my feeder.
    by pmalcpoet, Mon, 20 Dec 2021
  • Goldfinches will continue as long as Swiss chard is available. I'm watching one eating chard right now (mid-November in Vermont).
    by Brian Tremback, Sun, 14 Nov 2021
  • Birds are on the decline though sunflowers are rarely touched and for weeks hardly .eaten. I'll try a few sparing nuts on the table and a fat ball broken for jackdaws and tits but mealworms were a summer favourite being my go to choice
    by Paul Harabaras, Thu, 04 Nov 2021
  • I’ve been enjoying goldfinches eating coneflower/ echinacea seeds in my new pollinator garden! I will leave the plants out all winter for them if the seeds keep that long? Or should I deadhead and put them in a dry area? Im in CT and thought they migrated, but didn’t know they put in winter coats! What do they eat in winter without bird feeders?
    by Anne Sheffield, Sat, 04 Sep 2021
  • Hi Gary, I will pass your question along to Birdsquatch next time I see him. He knows infinitely more about nocturnal wildlife than I do. Where do you live? That's pretty important in figuring out the answer. But the thief could be raccoons, deer, or flying squirrels. Do you live in the woods? Are there trees near your feeder, or must the culprit climb a shepherd's hook or pole? Dawn Hewitt, Watching Backyard Birds
    by Dawn Hewitt, Mon, 30 Aug 2021