“There was a strange stillness. The birds, for example where had they gone? Many people spoke of them, puzzled and disturbed. The feeding stations in the backyards were deserted. The few birds seen anywhere were moribund; they trembled violently and could not fly. It was a spring without voices. On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other bird voices there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh.”
— Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
We put birdfeeders up in our yard a year or two ago. We waited to do so until we no longer had outdoor cats of our own, and until we had finally been able to grow the yard into a place inviting to us and to birds. It didn’t take long for the birds to discover the feeders, different kinds of sparrows and finches showed up, doves soon joined them and even western tanagers for a short time in spring put in an appearance. Not knowing much about bird identification at the time, we still enjoyed watching them sort through the seed for their favorites.
I’m not sure whether the increase in bird population this year is a result of the passing of the news that there are feeders here or whether it is because the trees are big enough to shelter more and more birds, or whether I am finally just seeing the many here, but it has been a lovely year. While Tiff (my daughter) was an interpretive volunteer at Bryce Canyon she got to know a member of the staff who is a bird expert and learned much from him. She in turn passed her enthusiasm on to me, we participated in the Audubon Christmas bird count in Bryce Canyon last year, bought some books, and have been trying to learn a bit more about birds– different species that are in our area, characteristics, etc. It has made me much more aware of birds in general. When we went to La Push, Washington in May I saw birds that I’d never noticed before. I’m sure they had always been there, it was simply that my awareness of them was missing. Now I see and hear so much more than I did before.
We have now seen warblers, orioles, woodpeckers, a pair of cedar waxwings last winter, and even watched young hawks (I had no idea there were hawks in town!). There is a robin pair that has been teaching their young how to find worms in what I now call “the nursery” (our front yard garden), and four regular scrub jay visitors that take turns testing the peanuts we put on the patio for just the right one, then hide and transfer their nut of choice from one stash to another in the trees, bushes and garden.
Now that I know the birds are there I have reset my sprinklers to come on at three different times during the evening, night and early morning, dividing the total watering time by three so as not to overwater, to keep the neighborhood cats out of the yard. Every once in awhile we see a cat trying to sneak into the yard and then it is running time — chasing the cat away like a protective parent. I happen to like cats but I now keep mine indoors to protect the birds and wish others would do the same. My awareness of my little outdoor environment, my yard, has changed because of the birds. I see and listen differently, I plant differently, I interact differently than I used to, before noticing the birds. It makes me wonder what other wonders I am not “seeing.”
My increased awareness has come at a cost. The yard is not my exclusive ‘domain’ anymore. I now knowingly and willingly share the space. This requires that I not put bug and weed killer on the plants and grass, I look to see what I will disturb by going out, and I am much more still outside than I used to be. Mine is a different stillness than that Rachel Carson spoke of in the above quote. Mine is one of appreciation in order to hear the living world around me. Carson speaks of the absence of life, the absence of song as a result of DDT usage. There is a consequence to our actions and we must understand that consequence in order to make an informed choice. We must be aware of and willing to pay the price. Silence is not a price that I am willing to pay.