Birds on the Balcony: front row seats

What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?

There’s been plenty of domestic bird activity for me to watch lately.  Spring-time is a busy period in the avian calendar.

As April reached the three-quarter point I was charmed by a pair of house sparrows, who were extremely interested in a very desirable residence on our balcony.  There are several bird boxes on the balcony.  I couldn’t imagine them ever being used; there’s too much human activity; the squirrels have access – and now of course, there will be a cat.  But these sparrows seemed keen.  The male worked hard to interest the female; for a full day the two of them hopped in and out of adjacent boxes like the little man and woman on old-fashioned weather houses.  Which one would they prefer? I was still sceptical that anything would come of it but …

…They started bringing materials!  And pulling off pieces of dried stalk from last year’s dead balcony plants left in situ by the previous owners.  (I knew there was a reason why I’d not got around to clearing them away.)  A busy day followed for Mr & Mrs Sparrow but sadly, it came to a rapid and abrupt end.  Mrs Sparrow lost interest – or got a better offer.  She disappeared.  But the male didn’t give up.  Plucky little thing, he continued to sit on the ledge outside his chosen house and chirp loudly. Poor little lovelorn sparrow; he kept up his lonely vigil for a good ten days: coming back over and over again, calling loudly.  Not a glimmer of interest for all his efforts.  Eventually we stopped hearing the persistent and very noticeable ‘cheep’ and there was no longer a little brown body outside the bird house.  A shame.  I miss him.  I hope he had more luck elsewhere but somehow, I doubt it.  Maybe next year.  And at least it was quieter outside.  Perhaps he could work on his courtship song.  Having more than just the single note may help …

There was an audible commentary to the chaffinch activity too – a little more unusual than that of the sparrow.  I had a ringside seat several times as the rosy-chested little males put on their best displays to woo a female.  The male does the sweetest dance: head-bobbing assiduously one way, then the other; fluttering his wings just enough to show off his feathers; occasional deep bows which make me think of the gentlemen in Austen’s novels.  Always as I watched, it seemed that the female deigned to permit this attention, but appeared reluctant to engage.

On one occasion I was actually sitting outside, chatting down the phone.  And while I chatted, the male chattered too.  Again, the bobbing and hopping, the fluttering and bowing: he seemed even more animated this time and was performing on the metal grille around the edge of the balcony rather than on the floor.  He jumped from one side to the other of his prospective lady-wife, showing off all his best features – and she was watching!  And all the while he was communicating with her audibly: a long series of complicated clicks and whirrings.  He sounded like a clockwork chaffinch, and he was certainly well wound up!  Chaffinches seem to me to be placid, easygoing birds and now I must add ‘comic’ to my list of responses to them.  These funny little courtship displays are a serious business for the chaffinches of course.  For me, they are delightful interludes which make me smile.

I’m loving my ring-side seat.  A few moments’ pause at the windows never fails to reveal some small delight.  These pauses take on a meditative, mindful quality: a means of stepping outside my inner life and focusing fully on the moment. I notice tiny changes in leaf colour in the valley, or snatches of bird activity as I’ve described here.  Everyday happenings in nature that we can so easily miss if we forget to take the time.  And really, it’s the everyday moments, those everyday happenings, that are surely what life is all about.


What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

W H Davies


6 thoughts on “Birds on the Balcony: front row seats”

  1. My kids like watching birds, so we made a couple of bird feeders for the front porch to encourage avian visitors. But their enthusiasm when they see a bird tends to scare the bird away. 🙂


      1. Oh I hope you’ll share more of you’ve learned about jim, I know he was homeless, but don’t recall much else, his talent surpasses all. His poem also reminds me of Kate Chopin’s A Reflection – are you familiar with that one? It’s a kind of paradox, but one that so resonates!

        Likewise thank you following my reading too.


  2. Claire, I hadn’t heard of ‘A Reflection’ – I plan to read ‘The Awakening’ and that had been the only work I’d heard of by Kate Chopin. Thank you for this one. And my goodness – it certainly resonates!

    As for Davies, I really only know what I’ve read online so far: welsh-born, with a wanderlust and a delight of nature and simplicity that took him to America and to London, among the tramps, the homeless and the itinerants. I suspect that ‘A Reflection’ would have spoken strongly to him. I wonder if he ever read it; he would have been wandering America around that time I think.

    An accident caused him to lose his lower leg which prevented him continuing with that lifestyle and he returned again to London where he worked hard to promote his poetry – self-publishing and posting copies of the book to people of influence. As he became known, he became friends with many of the known poets and artists of his time.

    That combination of rootedness in nature, a need for simplicity, an appreciation of the ordinary and a love of the arts fascinates me. He had little formal education yet held his own among the intelligentsia of his day. He seems to have been a man who knew his own mind and lived by his own values and clearly people were drawn to him. I very much want to read more of his work – and read more about him!


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