Year of Grace, Day 17. Garden guests

A robin landed just in front of the kitchen door yesterday while I was having breakfast. Its chest is not actually red — more like russet — so that the colour blends in with its tawny body and doesn’t stand out. When a robin is sitting still on a branch on the Amelanchier which is now wearing its autumn colours, it can hardly be distinguished from the leaves. There is always a robin coming around to investigate when I’m digging in the garden. It comes really close — it’s that cheeky and sure of its welcome with me, for which I am thankful as I truly enjoy its company. Having a bird come close makes me exceedingly happy. It is one of the joys of gardening when a robin comes to peck busily at all sorts of edible tidbits it finds on the soil that I have just turned over.

I am thankful for these wonderful garden guests. Now that it’s autumn, birds that I haven’t seen all summer are back —  the jays, the finches, the thrushes. Together with the robins, they display the most splendid of colouring among my winged garden guests. The jays have a clear blue and black underwing, so startling against their beige and fawn and black and white outer feathers. They’re very intelligent birds and very wary as well, so that the slightest change in their surroundings tips them off and they’re gone, as swiftly as they come. Some finches have a salmon-coloured body with a dark black and brown tail, and some are beige and brown with dark beaks. The thrushes have a gorgeous yellow chest with brown and black streaks and yellow underwing. They’ve taken to coming now because they’re most likely reminded of the peanuts and seeds that we put out every year as soon as it turns cold, and they’re doing a reccie of our bird bars that we hang from the yews.

Thrush on yew

There are two huge yews in the back garden that thankfully shield the house from the path. One is an English yew and the other is Irish, I believe, as they have different structures; the English one having slightly droopy branches. Yews are truly great trees and live for thousands of years. Apparently the roots can regenerate and kickstart a seemingly dead yew back to life. The berries are just beginning to turn red, and they’re another big attraction for the birds.

There are some birds that perhaps were not paying attention when their parents were teaching them the correct way to eat the berries, because I have observed fledglings being brought to the yew tree by their parents. I imagine the furious and animated chirping going on is a discussion on poisonous and non-poisonous food. Or perhaps they have swallowed the seed by mistake. It is only the bright red aril, the fleshy bit surrounding the seed that is edible. The seed is notoriously poisonous, as are other parts of the tree. (The related wild Pacific yew is the source of the anti-cancer drug, taxol.) I feel so helpless and overwhelmed when I see a bird lying dead on the ground. A thrush lay chest up under the yew one day, displaying its magnificent yellow streaky chest. I didn’t know whether it was poisoned by the yew berries or it had flown into the glass windows and was only momentarily stunned. I was as well unsure whether I could safely handle it, for fear of bird flu. It didn’t recover even after several hours. Sad end for such a truly splendid bird. Can I be forgiven for being slightly, but truly only ever so slightly, grateful? It was a chance for me to take a closer look and a photograph of its magnificent colouring, that I would not otherwise have had. Rest in peace, dear splendid creature. In death, you are not forgotten.

Yew-poisoned thrush


2 thoughts on “Year of Grace, Day 17. Garden guests

  1. Poor bird. May it rest in peace. During the winter, my grandmother used to tie animal fat in a wire net to the bark of a tree in our garden in addition to having a high platform (not very easily accessible to cats) with grains and bread crumbs on it. There are few things more wonderful than to have wild birds visit your garden and it’s magical when don’t feel you are a threat.


    • You’re absolutely right about cats, Murasaki Shikibu. Our neighbour’s cat goes freely in and out of our garden, and I am always anxious about the birds. The bird feeders are high up on the yew’s branches, dangling from them, so that even if the cat dares to climb, the branch wouldn’t be able to support it. The cat hasn’t yet attempted to climb the yew, however. It is indeed magical to have wild birds in the garden!


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