A black-capped chickadee stretches out on a branch. Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald file

It was a scramble.

Thurston decided to bring us a gift at the back door.

Thurston, Amy Calder’s cat, recently caught a chickadee and brought it into the house. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

“He’s got a bird in his mouth,” Phil declared.

It was Wednesday and we had just finished breakfast. I opened the kitchen door and there he was, our big orange and white feline, all 20 pounds of him, looking frantically up at me, a black-capped chickadee ensconced squarely in his jaw.

When I reached down to pluck it out, Thurston bolted into the kitchen, heading for the dining room.

“Thurston — drop it!” I said. “Phil, put the cat in the other room and close the door!”


The chickadee (a.k.a., our Maine state bird) flew to the front hall and fluttered against a window. With a plastic bag over my hand, I attempted to capture it, only to watch it swoop through the living room and into my office.

I retrieved a towel, recalling that that’s what people do when trying to catch a bird. I crept into my office and saw it perched against my reporters’ notebooks on the tall table in the corner. Just when I was about to toss the towel over the bird, it flew to a window and fluttered against the glass.

Much to my surprise, it remained there as I opened the window. The beautiful 5-inch bird, gossamer black head with gray feathers and white breast, flew out and landed on a hedge next door. A disaster avoided.

A northern mockingbird takes flight from a tree branch. Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald file

I remembered my mother long ago, chastising her cat whenever it caught a bird. Mom, a registered nurse, was compassionate with both people and animals. She loved cats but always was keen to rescue captured birds from their clutches.

I never really thought much about birds in my younger years, but as I’ve aged, I’ve become quite fascinated with them. Not as much as my friends who are avid birders, but I am enamored of their songs and the exquisite way in which they conduct themselves as they flit through tree branches and chat with each other incessantly. What little gifts they are to us humans, both in terms of beauty and entertainment.

When I was little and found a dead bird, I would make a little coffin for it by procuring a cardboard box and stuffing it with my mother’s quilting squares or scraps of fabric. I’d place the bird inside it and bury it alongside the barn after orchestrating a miniature funeral. I’d then mark the grave with sticks, and later, add plots to the bird cemetery as needed.


We had an ancient, tall pine tree at the edge of our lawn and for several years, a mockingbird made the tree its home, perching at its top and singing away all day and night, its long tail wobbling to and fro.

My mother recalled in later years that as a child, I would complain that the mockingbird kept me awake at night.

But when I was a teenager, I loved that bird and, sleeping with my head next to an open, screened window, would count its various songs as I lay there, inevitably falling asleep around song No. 21. The mockingbird was my ticket to slumber.

Two common loons are seen on the Kennebec River in Sidney. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

Loons are my favorite now as I summer by the lake, their haunting calls breaking the silence at night and reminding us we are not alone. I feel protective of these mysterious creatures who pop up out of the water next to our boat as if to say “hello,” yet they are so elusive in other ways. I am angered when I see boats and other watercraft violating headway speed, endangering both the loons’ nests and their home upon the water.

Which is all to say our avian friends, and we, are a symbiotic part of this Earth we call home. We are here to protect, respect and enjoy each other’s company. We forget that as we fly through our lives — driven, focused, chasing whatever it is we think we need.

For me at least, it took years to discover the real prize is what I’ve had here all along, right in my own backyard.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 35 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She is the author of the book, “Comfort is an Old Barn,” a collection of her curated columns, published in 2023 by Islandport Press. She may be reached at acalder@centralmaine.com. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com

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