For the Birds

In the summer of 2015, while Iain and I were contemplating whether to move to the Philly area for his job, he saw a dead bird outside his Chicago office. To two people who don't believe in signs, it seemed like a sign.

The bird was not the reason we opted for the move, of course. But it seemed to take on greater significance as we tried to decide where we were going to live once we relocated.

With (then) five pets, renting wasn't an option. We had to buy — and buy quickly, because all seven of us were shoved into a two-bedroom flat in corporate housing. It was overwhelming, trying to figure out where we wanted to buy a home when we barely knew the area.

And we kept seeing dead birds.

In Springfield, outside the hotel where we stayed on our first visit. In Malvern, outside the corporate housing. In the attic of a home we were walking through. In the backyard of a home we nearly bought, until the inspection turned up proliferating mold.

It was unsettling. We began to wonder if we'd made the wrong decision.

And we were so sad about the birds! We love birds.

Then one day, we walked up to the house that would become our home, and we were welcomed by a bird.

image of a carving featuring a bird and a butterfly, reading 'Welcome', attached to the stone front of my house

Iain and I exchanged a glance. As we walked inside, I noticed the doorbell plate had hummingbirds on it.

Across the threshold was a house filled with bird decor. A key hook with pictures of birds, above which hung a framed print of geese in winter. A ceiling fan with a duck fob at the end of the chain. A small carving of a warbler affixed to a window frame. A glass sculpture of bluebirds. Large ceramic chickens on decorative shelving in the kitchen.

We walked out the back door into the expansive yard, with lots of room for Dudley and Zelly to run. There were a dozen birdhouses. More than that, there were countless birds chirping and singing and flying all over the yard.

Iain and I looked at each other. It was in every way a house we loved, and there were happy, thriving, alive birds everywhere!

That night, we decided to put in an offer. We learned that another offer had already come in, so along with our (full price) offer, I sent the owners a letter, telling them that we would promise to give the property as much love and care as they clearly had.

image of three glass birds hanging from a ceiling hook in our dining room, and reflected in a wall mirror

They accepted our offer.

Later, we met the former owners, who were a lovely older couple retiring to Florida. Their only reservation about leaving had been anxiety about whether the next owner would keep caring for the wild birds. They had been praying every day that the fates would send them buyers who would love the birds as much as they did.

We have taken care of the birds ever since. And I think they take care of us, too.

We certainly spend many happy moments together refilling their feeders, chirping back at them while we have coffee outside, and gazing at them from the windows.

And, for two people who don't believe in signs, we sure seem to keep getting messages from the birds.

Recently, we were sitting in the living room with a sales representative from a window company, about to make a very big financial decision. I turned and looked out the dining room window.

image of a hawk sitting on my deck railing

A Cooper's hawk was just sitting on the railing of the deck, peering at me through the window. "I'm sorry to interrupt," I said, cutting off the salesperson mid-sentence, "but there is a gorgeous hawk just sitting on the deck." Iain and the salesperson both clamored over to see, gasping at the sight.

I got up and slowly walked toward the window, where I was able to take the above photo. The hawk stayed put, then looked at me one last time before taking flight.

In the past few weeks, we've just finally finished the one room in our house with which we'd done nothing since moving in. It wasn't a conscious decision, but I realized, satisfiedly looking around the place upon its completion, that it was nonetheless an ode to the birds.

There are seven birds among the artwork and decor in the room: A tiny eagle, atop a vintage barometer; a pheasant embroidered in the design on some pillows; a glass swan; a wooden duck given to me on my birthday by Paul the Spud; a framed portrait of an owl; a statue of a dove; and Crow in Gesture 5, by Jason Tennant.

image of a carved wood black crow hanging on my wall

The previous owners left behind many of the birds for us: The welcome sign, the doorbell plate, the glass birds, the key hook and geese, the carving on the window frame.

They decided to take the chickens with them, but, after many visitors asked Iain and I why we kept referring to those particular shelves as the "chicken shelves," I got some vintage ceramic chickens of our own, and now it makes sense!

If you look closely, there are birds everywhere. A print in the entryway; an owl figurine on a shelf in the TV stand; Darth Vader releasing a dove in a print hanging above my desk.

And in the front yard, where crows caw for my attention so I'll throw them some peanuts; and in the backyard, where sparrows and chickadees and finches and grey catbirds and warblers and doves and robins and woodpeckers and cardinals and jays and bluebirds and cowbirds and all manner of wild birds congregate at the feeders.

We watch them from the window, talking about them with the names we've given the feeders. "Look at the cardinal at the church." "The sparrows are going bananas at apartment complex." "When the finch sock is empty, the finches head right for the highrise."

image of geese in our backyard in the snow

This place has been our home for a little less than three years now. We have been startled by the blood-curdling scream of a barn owl and marveled at the size of an eagle's nest in the top of the ancient tree in our front yard. We have added birdhouses and futilely tried to defeat the squirrels who steal the food. (Always a half-hearted effort, to be honest.) We have removed empty turtle shells left in the yard by littering hawks and welcomed geese onto our deck for dried corn during bitter snowstorms.

We have loved the birds, as they have always been loved in this place. And we have learned to really listen to them.

This place is for the birds. And happily so.

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