Bird Watching: A Famly Activity
Copyright 2018 by Rachel Stierle
Photo courtesy of the author.
My mother has
always been interested in creative hobbies. She loves scrap-booking,
knitting, drawing, and sewing. But, this story is not about those
hobbies; this story is about my mother's love of photography, and how
her interest in photographing the birds in our neighborhood impacted
don’t remember exactly when it started, but one day I came
downstairs for breakfast and found my mother’s camera attached
to her tripod, which was positioned in front of the sliding glass
door that looked out at our deck. Every so often, my mother would
stand at her camera, making noises of glee when she had taken a good
picture of the birds that visited us.
this hobby developed into a family affair, one that would connect us
all in an odd and humorous way.
my mother’s hobby of photographing the birds developed, more
and more I would notice her come home and immediately look outside
for any birds. On the weekends, she’d stand watch at the
sliding glass door, looking out for any bird activity like a soldier
manning her post. The binoculars, which once sat on my father’s
desk like an old relic, were now a commonplace sight on the kitchen
table or beside the kitchen sink.
started out having only the Cardinals to admire. The bright red
beauties would sit in the trees behind our house, standing out
against the green and brown landscape. Occasionally, they would fly
up to the deck in search of seed that my mother had laid out on the
deck railing. My mother would snap pictures, oohing and aahing over
the photos she took. She’d gleefully show my sister and I the
photos, and we’d smile at her with feigned interest. My father
would joke with her about her hobby, and about the time she spent
watching birds instead of doing other things around the house.
then my father bought my mother a bird feeder. It was a green feeder,
one that would close if a heavy, unwanted bird or a squirrel were to
try and take a nibble at the seed inside. We hung it from the wooden
arches built atop our deck, making sure it was positioned so my
mother could easily watch for hungry birds.
of the feeder’s proximity to the glass door and the kitchen
table, I began to look out for the birds myself. I remember looking
out one morning, expecting to see birds, and instead seeing a
squirrel climbing that feeder. I remember laughing until I was
breathless when I saw the squirrel nearly catapult himself off of
that feeder in shock when it closed shut under his weight. I remember
my dad began to be more cautious of the squirrels on our deck. He’d
persistently—and annoyingly—tap the glass to surprise
them, to shoo them away from the bird food and from potentially
running off a bird my mother was watching.
we couldn’t just have one feeder; one feeder turned into two
feeders. This time, it was a yellow feeder. My mother had researched
birds within our area and had found that the American Goldfinch—a
vibrant yellow bird with a black head and wings—was known to
reside in the area. Having a yellow feeder attracted them most to our
deck. We began to see the birds a lot after that. I remember being so
in awe at their beauty and the brightness of their feathers. I began
to develop a respect for the birds, and would look out to see who was
at the feeder whenever my mother was actively fiddling with her
two feeders turned into four. As my mother researched more into the
types of birds in our area, she found that some birds preferred suet
cage feeders, or feeders that contain a sticky, square block of bird
food. This food contained various ingredients, such as peanut butter,
oats, fat trimmings, wheat, cornmeal, birdseed, honey, mealworms,
dried fruit, and more. The suet feeders would attract birds like the
Carolina Wren, the Nuthatch, the Yellow-Bellied Warbler, the Downy
Woodpecker, the Black-Capped Chickadee, the Blue Jay, the Eastern
Bluebird, and more. My mother saw this as a great way to bring more
birds around. It was also a great way for her to learn about Virginia
birds—and to teach me about them.
feeders quickly turned into six. My mother received a Hummingbird
feeder and another bird feeder one Mother’s Day. We hung the
new bird feeder in the front of the house, so that she could enjoy
the birds both in the sun and shade of the day. She wanted new
backgrounds for her photos, and wanted to attract more birds to our
yard, since she had found that the bigger birds were scaring off the
smaller ones. The new feeder in the front yard attracted the smaller
birds, and allowed them to avoid competing with the bigger birds in
the backyard. I began to take interest in this feeder, as I could see
it from the living room window when I did homework in that room.
we were running out of room to hang our feeders.
my family turned to our local bird store, Wild Birds Unlimited, for
help. We bought my mother a metallic, black bird feeder stand,
complete with four hooks to hang feeders from. The top of the feeder
stand was interchangeable, and the store offered many different metal
bird cut-outs to choose from that you could adorn the stand with. My
mother picked out the red Cardinal shape—the bird that first
brought her into the world of birds to begin with. We placed this
feeder stand by the railing, which was easy to see from my mother’s
spot at the glass door.
time went on, we bought an extension to this stand—a metal
arm-like shape with metal leaves attached to it. This would give the
birds a place to perch and relax beneath the feeders. I helped my
mother pick it out at the Wild Birds store.
Photo courtesy of the author.
long after, my father bought my mother another metal feeder stand.
This one had only two hooks, and had a Bluebird cut-out on the top.
This one did not have a stand, but rather was meant to be screwed
into place in the corner of the deck so that it could hang out over
the grassy yard below. We positioned it at the far end of the deck,
still in view of my mother’s spot at the glass door. But, if
she wanted a better angle, she would move her camera into the family
room and open the window that looked right out at the feeder (I’m
sitting on the couch, writing this now, and looking out at the feeder
more birds arrived, my mother became more enthralled with her hobby.
She and my father bought a ceramic dish, and filled it with water for
the birds to drink from. My mom would clean it every few days to keep
the birds healthy. When the weather turned cold, she and my father
bought a bird bath heater so that the water in the dish wouldn’t
freeze in the winter and the birds would be able to find something to
noticed, over time, that my family and I slowly had become immersed
in the hobby of bird-watching as well. What we hadn’t realized
was how much we had enabled this hobby; we had given her the six
feeders, the two feeder stands, and even bird-designed things for the
house—such as a bird clock (with actual birds’ pictures
instead of the numbers and a chorus of quiet bird chirping noises at
the top of every hour), bird-patterned pillows, both handmade and
bought bird paintings, and metal artwork of birds.
my family had also changed in attitude towards my mother’s
hobby. My father began to outright scare off the squirrels who had
climbed the deck in search of food. If he caught one on the feeder,
he would no longer tap on the glass to get their attention; he would
slide the door open to scare them off. As they became used to his
presence, he had to develop new tactics to scare them away; he would
hiss, physically chase them off the deck, stomp his feet, and holler
at them (needless to say, it was a humorous sight to see). He had
become protective of my mother’s hobby, protective of the
birdseed and suet that kept the birds visiting our yard. And, when he
would see birds in the back, my father would text my mother what he
saw, or holler for her to come take a photo if it was a rare or new
change was a bit more subtle, but I became just as immersed as my
mother and father. As I sat eating breakfast each morning at the
kitchen table, I would look out at the deck and watch the birds
feasting away on our feeders. I would ask my mother about the birds,
which ones she had seen that day, which ones she had taken photos of.
It got to the point that I myself would use the binoculars, and would
squeal in delight at the sight of a new or rare bird. I have found
myself standing before her camera, zooming in on birds and taking
photos. Just recently, I was sitting at the table, looking out at the
deck and trees while my mother was busy zooming in on a Blue Jay.
When I gasped and called for her attention, I pointed to the other
side of the deck, where an Eastern Bluebird was busy eating at the
suet feeder. We hadn’t had a Bluebird this close to the deck
before, and only caught brief glimpses of it in the distance. I
watched, overjoyed, as my mother took her first close-up photos of
I used to feign interest when my mother would show me her photos or
talk about the needs of various types of birds. But now, I too scare
away the squirrels (though not to the extent to which my father does;
I don’t want the neighbors thinking I’m crazy). Now, I
listen to my mother’s bird conversations. I care about the
birds that visit my yard. I myself bird-watch.
been a few years since my mother first became interested in the
birds, but since the start of her hobby we have noticed an increase
in bird visitors of all kinds—we’ve had our favorite, the
Carolina Wren, which will sit on the corner of the deck and sing his
lovely song early in the morning most days before hiding underneath
the grill by midday. We’ve had two kinds of woodpeckers—the
Downy and the Red-Bellied woodpeckers. We’ve had Goldfinches,
House Sparrows, House Finches, timid Juncos, greedy Blue Jays, scarce
Catbirds, rare Mockingbirds, poop-machine Robins, sharing and kind
Bluebirds, rare Warblers, a lone Chickadee, a lone Nuthatch,
brown-speckled European Starlings, greasy and iridescent Grackles,
and occasionally a hungry hawk. In the spring until the beginning of
fall, we will hang out the Hummingbird feeder for a few gorgeous (but
territorial) Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds to grace us with their
presence. We’ve become a bird colony, of sorts. Cardinals and
Goldfinches and Blue Jays have become commonplace outside our home.
wouldn’t be able to name any of these birds (save a few obvious
ones like the Blue Jay, Cardinal, and Hummingbird), if it were not
for my mother. If not for her, I would not have experienced these
birds or their quirky feeding rituals. If not for my mother, my
family wouldn’t have become so involved with the nature around
our home that we know to throw out mealworms for the Bluebirds when
we see them around, or to toss out peanuts when the Blue Jay comes.
If not for my mother, I wouldn’t have gotten to laugh
hysterically at the sight and sounds of my father chasing off the
neighborhood squirrels. If not for my mother, I wouldn’t have
become obsessed with looking out every morning for a few minutes,
trying to count all the different types of birds I see before I go to
started as a hobby that my mother became interested in slowly became
one that my whole family participates in. It has brought us a bit
closer together, in a way. Sometimes we will still joke with my
mother about her love of birds, how some days she might spend dawn
until dusk standing at the sliding glass door with her eye into her
camera. But I’m just glad she’s found something she
loves. I’m glad that now I can enjoy it with her.
My name is Rachel
Stierle, and I am a graduating senior at George Mason University.
Though I have never published a story before, I feel that being a
writer is something I would love to continue to do for the rest of my
life. I enjoy writing nonfiction and fiction stories of all types,
but I mostly focus on writing creative nonfiction. I was inspired to
publish this story by my Nonfiction professor, who has given me
nothing but encouragement this entire school semester. I was also
inspired to publish this story because of my mother, who is the real
inspiration behind this story.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
Another story by Rachel
Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher