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 have experienced this when a house wren punctured 5 blue bird eggs last spring in our blue bird box. Then I hung out a wren box by the trees and he got busy filling it and left the bluebirds alone and they successfully raised another brood!
    by Susan, Sun, 07 Apr 2019
  • I also have several turkeys that live in the woods behind me. They visit early morning and near sundown. Living in the country with a mountain and brook behind my house, I have animals visiting 24hrs a day. My turkeys are awesome. They know me and wait for their breakfast. They hop up on my patio wall to look in my windows. I also noticed the 2 birds that are the lookouts. They come over to eat as the others march across my lawn to my neighbor who also feeds the animals. We also have coyotes that, I am sure, have eaten turkey dinner. The squirrels run around and chase them to protect their seeds and cracked corn. I feed my 3 raccoons peanut butter jelly sandwiches, which they share with a possum and 3 skunks, at the same time, by the way. No food goes into my garbage. Meat scraps go to crows and hawks. Everything else, even soup, gets eaten before the sun is completely set. That keeps bears away if no dishes are there to entice. I break up bread in tiny pieces now and turkeys 'gobble' it up. So happy to find another person that enjoys wildlife. Nothing is more satisfying than walking out side and spotting Daisy the skunk, calling her name and watching her tripping all over herself, running to meet you. Thank you for your valuable information.
    by Stella Kachur, Wed, 27 Mar 2019
  • This is exactly my experience. The local feed store had some on sale so I thought I'd try some. Actually I was shocked at how it is avoided, and I've been feeding birds for more than 40 years. I suppose I've never had it out as the ONLY food source, but when I put it out along with the blackoil, peanuts, cracked corn and suet cakes, absolutely nothing would touch it. Even when I dumped some on the ground the rabbits wouldn't eat it, nor would the squirrels. Eventually some turkeys and deer ate some--when they could find nothing else underneath the other feeders. But even they left plenty on the ground which they NEVER do with cracked corn, sunflower, etc.Every person should try some if they're inclined and decide for themselves since every situation may be a bit different, but for me/my species, safflower is a big no.
    by Colin Croft, Sun, 03 Mar 2019
  • I have questions about the Zick Dough? It says not to use in cold weather. It is still in the 40s here. Too soon? How long should I expect a supply to last? And, use a tray feeder? Thanks.
    by martindf, Sun, 25 Nov 2018
  • Glad I found this. I'm a snowbird and was worried about all the birds that come to feed at my birdfeeder. I have Cardinals, sparrows, doves, Blue Jays, chickadees. I hope they'll find food elsewhere while I'm gone.
    by Donna, Sat, 03 Nov 2018