Catbird For Nature Watch


There are certain birds, animals and plants that hold a special place in my heart. Most of them are not fancy in any way. They tend to be ordinary, doing mundane, everyday things, but they have captured something magic for me that I won’t even try to explain. Magic is magic, after all; to be believed, not analyzed, right?

As I watched out my kitchen window this morning, waiting for my coffee to brew in my tiny French press, I spied a song sparrow perched on one of my tomato cage wires.

The diminutive striped song sparrow with the trademark center chest spot has become a companion bird for me. They live in my yard all year, nesting in several locations, visiting my resting gardens and weed patches I leave standing all winter. They are early risers and early singers, too, often starting around 3 AM. I know this for a fact, for I lay awake listening to one outside my bedroom window this very morning. It was atop the lilac bush, singing its little heart out. Somehow I always feel this song brings me a message each day, a message of hope and good cheer.

The song sparrow in my garden may have been the same one I heard serenading before the first light of dawn, but of course I have no way of knowing. It hopped about on the ground in my vegetable garden, gathering insects until its beak was filled to overflowing. I’m sure it was gathering food for little ones in the nest, a happy thought as I began my day.

It is also the time of the Canada mayflower, also known as the false lily of the valley. It is one of my favorite spring flowers. It’s neither fancy nor haughty, but rather common and un-fussy. It will grow anywhere it can get enough light and water and I look forward to it each spring, that and its companion, the more-delicate star flower.

It’s easy to love orioles and cardinals with their flamboyant colors, but give me the sleek and lovely gray catbird any day. I can’t say with any certainty they are smarter or funnier than other yard birds, but they have entertained me since I heard the first one meow like a cat when I was a tiny child. I thought it funny then, that a bird would imitate its sworn enemy, the cat, and I still find it amusing, though now more ironic than I did at 4.

Everyone loves to hate rabbits, chipmunks and squirrels, but these backyard visitors brighten my days in spite of their perceived naughty behaviors. Even the big-eyed deer mice can seem cute when they stay outdoors. Garter snakes like to surprise me in the garden, but I know they are just doing their job, so we regard each other with respect and move along.

Many of us learned to love robins when we were children, and I still adore their cheery songs and their busy hopping about in my yard. I love their sweet blue eggs and their spotty-breasted little ones learning to find worms and bugs for themselves, too.

As I write this I realize that most of these animals have been among my favorites since I was a child. I learned early on to take solace in nature, and I loved knowing I shared the world with so many wonderful little creatures. I loved toads and frogs, turtles and fish, especially the sunfish that fanned their nests with their tails at the edge of the neighborhood pond. Butterflies, grasshoppers and earthworms were my companions, and wild onions and berries were mixed together to make soups and salads for the fairies and elves that just might be hiding beneath the leaves. Often, when I checked in the morning, my offerings were gone or tossed about. I didn’t need more proof than that!

There’s magic in nature. It doesn’t have to be majestic or bold to steal the hearts and minds of children. It does, however, require that the children get outside and spend some time in the dirt and grass doing nothing more than playing with buttercups and clovers, tadpoles and fireflies.

If you haven’t enjoyed making some fairy soup or watching the clouds fly by while lying on your back in the grass recently, maybe it’s time to do so again. Reclaim some magic. It’s right outside our doors. The song sparrow told me so.

Mary Richmond is an artist, writer, naturalist and educator who grew up on the Cape and lives in Hyannis. More information at

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