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facts & arguments

For the record, I am not a birder, nor have I ever known anyone who would consider themselves one.

I live in a small apartment in downtown Toronto. Since moving here three years ago, my run-ins with nature are, at best, random and sporadic. Pigeons and rats aside, there isn't a lot of wildlife within the city limits unless you're really looking for it.

I grew up in London, Ont., in a house close to a conservation area. We had a pond in our backyard. I am used to seeing animals of all shapes and sizes, like the blue heron that used to pay us a daily visit or the groundhog that lived under our back porch. As children, my sister and I trained the chipmunks living in our backyard to sit in our laps while we hand-fed them peanuts.

When I moved to downtown Toronto, I accepted those days would be over, at least for a little while. However, a few Christmases ago, I received a bird feeder in a secret Santa exchange and it changed my perspective in a way I would have never imagined.

Much to the chagrin of my boyfriend, who has a general distaste for anything of the avian variety, I hung the feeder on our balcony. For a week, nothing happened. I was surprised at how disappointed I was that no birds had shown up.

But that soon changed. The following Saturday morning, a brown bird with a red head landed on my ninth-floor balcony (I later learned it was a house finch). He looked around gingerly, cocking his head from side to side, seemingly inspecting every inch of the balcony.

I held my breath in anticipation. After what seemed like hours but was most likely not more than a minute, he flew up and eagerly planted his face into the bounty of seeds.

And that was only the beginning.

Within days my balcony was overrun with birds. With the help of Google, I was able to identify each one and my list quickly grew: house finches, sparrows, cardinals, blue jays and starlings had gathered to feast on the free meals. The feeder was often empty within a few hours of being filled. I was ecstatic.

One day, as I stared out the window mesmerized by their cheerful dispositions, something caught my eye off in the distance. Before I was able to fix my sight on the fast-moving object, a hawk was preparing to land on my balcony. It appeared I wasn't the only one who had a vested interest in my new bird feeder.

I locked eyes with the hawk, too startled to even react. The hawk seemed surprised to see me standing there and aborted his landing at the last minute. I was a little too close for his liking that time, but he has never strayed far. He occasionally makes an appearance, although I imagine he does so more frequently when he knows I'm not around.

There is no denying my bird friends now have a solid place in my heart. With the arrival of winter and the biting cold air, I find myself researching new birdseed combinations and specialized feeders to assist them through the most difficult time of the year. We have many more bird visitors in the winter – up to 15 at a time – and only one or two a day in the summer.

My boyfriend, ever supportive and accommodating of our growing "family," has teased that our birdseed budget is spiralling out of control. He is only half kidding.

Our morning rituals now consist of my boyfriend and I standing at our window, eating toast and drinking tea while watching the birds gorge themselves. We are family, after all, and families eat their meals together.

If there were any question about the birds' place in our home, it has long been forgotten. My boyfriend often sends me text messages, and the occasional picture, of what the birds are doing as he studies at our desk by the window. Once, he even ventured outside to refill the feeder on his own.

The best part is that I find myself happier just having them around. We have all heard about the healing power of nature, but those words generally conjure images of a remote forest or vast ocean spread out in front of us, not the boring brown birds found everywhere.

Yet their round little bodies, gregarious attitudes and cheerful songs can cut through the darkest of moods. There are few things better in this world than waking up to the sounds of birds singing to each other.

Yes, they are just regular birds. There is nothing fancy or exotic about them, but they represent the true essence of nature.

They serve as a constant reminder that there is a world bigger than us out there. They continuously teach us that we all share this planet, whether we like it or not, so we need to learn to live together if we're going to make it. They are more than happy with each other's company, eating the same meal every day, singing the same song over and over.

But, above all, if they have taught me anything, it's that life is short and sweet. Keep it simple and you'll always have a cheerful song to sing, too.

Lindsay Tibando lives in Toronto.

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