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My wife versus the Catbird

May 2, 2008

New I and the Bird over at Consworld.


My wife is exceedingly tolerant when it comes to birds. She’s not a birder, and when she met me, I was not quite the obsessive about it I am today. That part of my personality was in remission, smoldering below the surface to explode once again in a fiery burst of geek and feather fueled passion. And when it inevitably did, she was on the front lines. She was there for the new binoculars, and the early Saturday mornings, and the garden full of feeders, not to mention the books and the pelagics and the trips to far flung tropical nations for the express purpose of poking around in the jungle for a week. She’s been a good sport about it the whole time, allowing me the time and space and money to follow this mania wherever it takes me. She even occasionally pretends to be interested in it. I guess I could say I’m pretty lucky. But even after all this, there is one thing that threatens to ruin all the birdy good will I’ve somehow engendered.

Each year our garden is home to a pair of Grey Catbirds. Every year around the middle of April, like clockwork, they find their way back to nest in the shrub that hides the main electrical box for our group of condos. And every year my wife threatens to put her fist through the window in response to the first sign of their return.

Imagine, if you will, a lazy early spring Sunday morning in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The night before was perfect for sleeping with the windows open, the cool spring breeze wafting through the room as you look forward to the opportunity to sleep in on a day with no responsibilities. There are, after all, fewer things in life more pleasurable then sleeping in on a spring Sunday morning. It’s a treat even birders can appreciate, but only if the boreal migrants have yet to arrive. Then, less then half an hour after the sun has begun to peek over the horizon, filling the room with the glow of early morning, it begins. Distant at first, but growing nearer. Meeeeew! Slowly weaseling its way into your consciousness, rousing you from your slumber. Meeeeew! Nasal and piercing and constant, so constant. You realize too late what’s going on. Meeeeew! To the window. There, on the fence post, all jaunty cap and cocked tail, a catbird, taunting you in that way only a catbird can taunt. Leering at you with that big dark eye. You’re fully awake, the dream is over. Might as well get out of bed.

This is how it goes every year from April to September. The only respite comes when it’s even too hot at night to leave the windows open and the air conditioner comes into play, but such lack of faith is punished come late in the summer, when an entire family of up to five catbirds sits atop the fence, calling to each other, a symphony of nasal mews. I feel my wife’s pain. It’s enough that my clock alarm wakes her early on spring weekends, that’s certainly my fault. But the catbirds come to a yard that I’ve worked to make attractive to birds. I can’t choose which birds prefer it, especially those with an alarm that’s far more insistent then NPR.

The thing is, I have a soft spot in my heart for catbirds. I like the way they skulk through the underbrush and pop up quickly with a little pishing. I love the clean smooth slate-gray from head to tail. When I first noticed them in my yard I was happy to see them, when I found evidence of nesting I was thrilled. But now? I still kinda like having them around, they have a ton of personality. But they may have overstayed their welcome a tad. They’re like the houseguest that stays a few days long, shows no sign of leaving, and starts to get obnoxious. But they’re such a good friend, how can you turn them away? At some point you have to throw them out and hope they understand. You can’t really do that to a bird, but imagine if you could.

I think my wife would jump at the chance. But the birds are here until September, like it or not. Might as well pull out the couch.


I’m off to Appalachia this weekend and therefore, probably won’t be posting again until Tuesday afternoon, but it’ll be a rundown of a hot birding trip to a really cool part of the state. There’s good birds in them mountains, I reckon I’ll get me some…

  1. Owlman permalink
    May 2, 2008 9:31 pm

    I was laughing so hard I nearly fell off my chair. I was literally rolling on the floor. Great writing – the sad thing is that I have so much in common with you. My wife also puts up with my birding obsession.

  2. May 3, 2008 9:43 pm


    If you haven’t already, you and your wife should watch the movie Failure to Launch. An entertaining subplot involves a loud and persistent mockingbird that sings outside one character’s window day and night, driving her to go gun shopping. Not a bad movie all around.

  3. May 3, 2008 10:12 pm

    Owlman – Thanks for the kind words!

    AB – I’ll have to check it out, though it might hit a little too close to home…

  4. Jochen permalink
    May 5, 2008 5:29 am

    As long as you don’t find the NRA’s newsletter in your mailbox, you and the catbirds appear to be safe.

  5. Jochen permalink
    May 6, 2008 7:43 am


    Congrats, N8, that’s fabulous!!!

  6. May 6, 2008 8:43 am

    Oh yeah, a beauty too. Pictures and all. I’ll write about it this week.

  7. Jochen permalink
    May 7, 2008 3:35 am

    They’re all beauties, for sure. I tend to like Wilsonia warblers even more than Dendroicas, but it’s a marginal difference. Can’t wait to read the story.

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