Sunday, July 13, 2008


When my husband was gravely ill with cancer he spent many months lying in bed, especially after surgery and radical chemotherapy. To distract ourselves from the situation I decided to hang bird feeding platforms in the trees near the bedroom windows so that we could see how many different bird species we could attract to the garden. Everyday I would prepare a feast that became the talk of the town and soon every bird and his aunt arrived in our garden.

Jewel like Sunbirds often flitted to the windows flirting with their reflection in the glass. After a while they flew into the bedroom attracted by the flowers in the room. They darted around a bit and then flew through the house and out the back door. They did this daily becoming so tame that they would sit on the flowers for minutes at a time.

Collared Sunbird.

A few weeks after setting up the feeding station a Jackie Hangman (Fiscal Shrike) arrived, very dapper in his black and white plumage. These are the birds that mimic pet budgies and the next thing you notice he's yanked poor budgy's head through the bars. Jack also spent months visiting our bedroom. He too would fly through the window, down the passage and out the back door.

Fiscal Shrike.

Later I bought a nesting log made out of a palm stem. It wasn't completely hollowed out because it is always best to keep everything as natural as possible. Armed with wire and pliers I climbed into the the tree opposite the window and fixed the log so that my husband could see it directly from the bed. Coming back into the house I commented that it may be a few weeks before the birds became used to the log. Not so! I have goosebumps thinking about this ..... but almost immediately my husband whispered "Come take a look, quickly"

There, perched on the log were two Blackcollared Barbets and while I was watching with mouth agape they started pecking the pith out of the center of the log. I couldn't believe my eyes and I'm still amazed at the synchronicity of it all.

Blackcollared Barbet.

It took several weeks for the birds to hollow it out to their liking but eventually they were satisfied. They stayed in the tree, building, nesting, feeding and rearing young for the rest of my husbands treatment. Our visitors would congregate in the bedroom and sit mesmerized as this little family went about their business.

What are the odds that a family of bright red birds will take up residence in a tree only minutes after putting up a nesting log? I have given palm logs as gifts over the years and most people say that no bird will go near the log for months, if ever. We experienced many miracles during the two years that my husband was ill and this was definitely one of them. I'm convinced the birds played a huge part in the healing process.

All illustrations on this post are taken from Newman's Birds of South Africa.


  1. your story proves there is always a silver lining. so sorry that your husband had to go thru that. what an amazing story of creativity in the face of strife!

  2. What a lovely story, I am so glad you shared it and certainly enjoyed reading the miracle of visiting birds.

    Love the owl, the eyes are so great!

  3. Julie, we all gained so much from this experience even though it was pretty gruelling at the time. The birds took everyones focus off the seriousness of the situation and I think it was a relief for our visitors to be able to share in something so joyous as the often amusing antics of these feathered friends.

    Thank you Patty. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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  5. I do believe they were there specifically for his healing! What a lovely story. Hope all is well and he is happy and healthy now.

    And I loved seeing a variety of birds completely different from what we have up here. Gorgeous.

  6. I love your depth Robyn...I love your varied blog posts...I love birds! Your life enriches mine.

  7. What a lovely warm post Robyn - I enjoyed reading every word, and obviously your garden birds are very different to ours (UK). Thanks so much for visiting my blog - you are my first visitor from Africa! Val

  8. Thankyou for sharing this R, thankyou.

  9. Your birds are SO different than ours! The colors and sounds and habits are fascinating. I keep a tape cassestte of forest bird's soothing, just like a breath of fresh air. I have no doubt that there are healing powers around us if we only look and listen.
    Sending good thoughts into the universe for your hsubands' continued good health.

  10. Robyn, life is full of miracles isn't it? There is nothing like seeing a wonder like this up close to take the mind off of oppressive experiences. I am certainly glad that your husband is well now.

  11. What gorgeous birds! I especially love the "sunbirds" They would be lovely in a painting, or a poem. Love your story too. Your home sounds amazing. Roxanne

  12. Wonderful birds I've never seen before but I am so sorry to read about your husband having to go through all that. I'm sure the birds were (And remain) an utter delight though.

  13. Thank you for sharing your story about the birds and how healing they were on your husbands' illness. The force of nature!

  14. Very special post Robyn...Thankyou for sharing it...and those birds!!!they are wonderful...

  15. What a wonderful post and what a great idea to attract the birds. It seems the birds gave everyone support- the caregiver and the patient on a spiritual and emotional level. I loved that some of them flew right into the house for the flowers!

  16. I hung my first bird feeder (made by my dad) outside my kitchen window last fall, and found that watching the birds was such a calming, life-affirming experience. Watching their daily routines each morning was a wonderful start to the day. Great story!

  17. Wow. Healing comes in many ways and I'm glad the birds came to heal your husband.

  18. Willow, he has been free of cancer for over 6 years now and is doing so well even though one arm does not work as well as it used to (he has a donor humerus). He is lucky to be here and we are so very grateful.

    Shelley, thank you so much for your kind words, dear friend.

    Homeleightigger, it's great to see the differences in each country. I will never forget the joy I experienced in Chester, UK when I saw my first redbreasted Robin. We have dear little Robins here but not the typical christmas card Robins.

    Herhymnbryn, I am so happy you enjoyed my post.

  19. Stephanie, thanks for the good thoughts. I like the sound of that cassette of yours.

    Stevie, whenever I'm feeling a bit badly done by I think of the miracles in my life. There have been quite a few!

    Roxanne, we are indeed lucky to have such amazing birdlife here in S.Africa.

    Mmm, whenever we see a barbet we remember to count our blessings.

    p.s.original, Nature is incredible, isn't it? It never fails to soothe me when I'm feeling a bit frazzled.

    Jo, I'm so glad you enjoyed the post.

    Shayla, I have heard of similar stories of Sunbirds flying into the room atracted by bowls of flowers. In fact my hairdresser keeps flowers in her salon for this reason and I have often witnessed them darting around the salon while I'm having my hair cut.

    Kerri jean, it is a wonderful way to start the day, watching the birds feasting on the food you have put out for them.

    Thanks Heather, its all about appreciating the simple pleasures in life.

  20. There is action from all parts of the world that comes to our aid, isnt there? New life coming, and on wings, making light of a rather heavy journey you both were on. What a magnificent story, thankyou....

  21. This is such a beautiful storey, Robyn, I appreciate having the honor to read it...
    ... I am so glad that this experience happened for you both. A positive attitude had everything to do with his recovery...

    ps. it's great to see the bird-life in your part of the world.. I never saw these birds before.. Are Barbets rare? they look so cheery!

  22. What can I add? What a perfect and inspiring post.

  23. grrl+dog, you better believe it! Doors opened, problems were solved, all the difficulties were taken out of our hands and someone would appear as if out of nowhere to aid us at exactly the right moment.

    Gwen,thank you so much for your kind words. Barbets are not as common as sparrows and Ha-De-Das. You hear them more than you see them because they are rather vocal. They warble and laugh for long stretches. Very cheerful indeed! There are quite a few varieties of Barbet here. The Crowned Barbet is magnificent. (I will post a photo sometime.)

    Avus, thank you so much.

  24. What a beautiful story, thanks for sharing and such exotic birds.

  25. Thanks Ro. Australian birds seem exotic to me. Love the Kukuburra!

  26. My goodness what synchronicity! I came to this post on a link from Virginia and was totally enchanted with it, Robyn! And just before that, I read a newsletter that somewhat explains to me the relationship you and your husband must have with the natural world ...

    The Bridge ~ Step 72 ~ Beauty

    If you're driving down the road and you see only beautiful flowers; and your neighbor is driving down the same road and sees only weeds, who is right? What you are tuned into, that's what you create for yourself.

    It's interesting how some of us are so readily inclined to see the dark side of things, even when we are surrounded by extraordinary beauty. We complain out of habit, thinking, often unconsciously, that we'll receive some nice reward for all our grumbling. Unfortunately, we may get our treat, but we will also have to live out the results of our complaining, and thus miss out on some of the greatest gifts Mother Earth has to offer. For, it's when we hold our attention on her beauty, that something special is called up within us; something that instinctively makes us want to take good care of the Earth. From that point on, we clearly see where our greatest rewards are coming from. They come from taking care of that which is taking care of us.

    We go camping a lot and have since we were little children. Our parents used to pack up the station wagon on Friday evenings and drive my brothers and sisters and me out to the woods. Our favorite place was about 20 miles from town in a grove of trees that bordered a beautiful oblong lake. There weren't many people camping around us back then, but now, since it is so lovely, it's packed all weekend long. In the old days, we used to hunt in the nearby woods. We didn't see how special it was, so we'd kill all kinds of animals, chop the trees and bushes indiscriminately, dump stuff in the water, and leave a big mess behind when we went home. It didn't matter to us back then.

    Somewhere along the line, though, we made a conscious intention to remember just how sacred it was to be out in Nature. I don't remember exactly how it came about, but, over time, we gained an appreciation for the lake and the forest that we didn't have before. We slowed our pace down and began to approach our time in Nature more lightly, more gently. We started cleaning up after ourselves so you couldn't tell we'd been there. And we stopped killing the animals, and if, by accident, we harmed an animal or a plant, we did like the Native Americans, and we thanked it for its gift to us.

    That's when we noticed the change. It started to feel better out by the lake. Animals who used to run and hide when we were around began coming right up to us. Any firewood that we needed was always nearby. And, beyond all of that, a feeling of peace is there now that wasn't there before. Even though we have a lot more activity around us, our little campsite is so peaceful that other campers always stop by and remark about it.

    All said and done, we have a much better time out by the lake now that we take care of it, instead of harming it. And sometimes late at night, when I lay in my sleeping bag and look up at the stars, I feel so good I never want to leave.

    From The Code: Intentions in Action

    My Intention for today is:

    I Intend that I am taking good care of Mother Earth.


    A lovely post, Robyn. Thank you so much for sharing the miraculous with us here :)


  27. Barb, thank you for commenting and sharing the excerpt. Both my husband and I grew up on farms. I think being tuned in to animals and nature in general comes with the territory.

  28. What a beautiful idea of yours to hang those bird feeders, putting your creativity into your life the way you put your life into your creativity. Surely some mysterious magical force must have brought those special healing birds to grace your husband's view but just shows that we ourselves have to create the conditions for that magic to happen.

  29. Wow. I have goosebumps now, too.