“The Language of Birds,” May 16, 2017

Most of us have a few good bird stories. I’d love to hear yours. Here are some of mine.

When I was 7, I broke my new front tooth. A dentist replaced it with a metal crown until we could afford a better one. I wore it for six years. My dad called it the “silver bullet.” It was fine for eating, but not for smiling.

“What’s wrong with your mouth?” said my dad.

“I hate this silver tooth,” I said. “It makes me … ugly.”

He took my face in his callused hands. “Not to me,” he said.

Later, on our way to the barn to milk cows, a cardinal sang out, “Purty! Purty! Purty!”

“Hear that?” Dad said. “He says you’re pretty, pretty, pretty! It must be true. Birds don’t lie.”

That made me laugh. But I did not feel quite so ugly any more.

When my children were small, we laughed at the jays in our yard. Chased seagulls at the beach. And on rainy days, we’d go to a pond, open the door of our van and toss bread to the ducks. The kids loved the ducks. The ducks loved the bread. And I loved to watch them. Ducks, kids, feathers, curls, wings flapping, hands clapping, all laughing and quacking together.

After the kids grew up, their dad, a high school basketball coach, was diagnosed with cancer. He spent weeks in a hospital where the rooms looked out on a forest.

I had always watched birds for pleasure. In his hospital room, I learned to watch them for salvation.

While the Coach lay adrift on a sea of morphine, I studied the sparrows that flocked to a feeder outside his window. Why were they there? What was their purpose? Did they believe in the promise that not one of them could fall to Earth apart from the will of God? Did they wake at night fearing what lay ahead for them and their loved ones?

I didn’t have answers. I just watched those birds go about their lives, seemingly at peace, finding joy in birdseed and birdsong and the ability to fly. Watching them, I had a feeling that one day, I would fly, too.

Four years later, when the Coach finally lost his long fight with cancer, I rented a place on a lake in North Carolina, where I was born, and spent a month resting, writing and watching birds _ especially a great blue heron. Something about that breathtaking creature became a healing balm for my soul.

Fast forward 10 years to the desert outside Las Vegas. We were sitting on our patio, my new husband and I, drinking coffee and watching birds. The air was filled with music. Birdsong blended with a melody my husband was composing to play at his son’s wedding.

“That’s beautiful,” I said. “What will you call it?”

He looked up from his guitar and smiled. “I call it ‘The Language of Birds.’ ”

The wedding took place on the Fourth of July. My husband played his song. It was almost as lovely as the light in the eyes of the bride and the groom, their family and friends, and the birds that sang along in the trees.

Fast forward four more years to today. Just back from a week with my kids and grandkids, I was happy to be home with my husband, but missing the people I had left in California.

To cheer me up, my husband told me what he had seen while I was gone, an annual event I look forward to all year: The quail chicks had hatched!

I sat in our family room for an hour (if I went outside I might frighten the chicks) watching, waiting, hoping to see them. My husband spotted them first.

“There they go!” he yelled.

Choking on my coffee, I ran to the door. And there they were: One fat mama quail and four fuzzy thumb-sized chicks.

I wish you could see them.

Birds remind me of my children, my grandchildren, all children to come. They assure me life goes on. They give me hope and make me feel that one day I’ll fly, too. I watch them for pleasure and salvation. I believe absolutely in their song.

I hope you will, too.

Birds don’t lie.


  1. neva w Moten says

    I love the birds. they speak to me and talk to me. I answer…

  2. This column I missed to read. Today I read it. For 35 years I worked and never woke up at 5 am except when urgent. I was so busy working that I never heard songs of birds. Now when I am retired, I do not sleep after 5 am. Birds from window wake me up. They were there since ages. All precious years of our life pass in front of our eyes. Who knows what these birds say? May be they are teaching wake up early.

  3. Stef Brok says

    You continue to warm my heart. Thank you.

    My favorite bird story relates back to a time when my parents were hanging around the barn with the hope that I would be willing to leave my beloved horse to go home for dinner. As they were patiently waiting and talking to Tom Powell, an old cowboy and the owner of the barn, a robin flew overhead, dropping his mess directly onto my mom’s head. Startled, she stood there with her mouth agape while Tom, with his dry sense of humor drawled, “Y’know, for some people they sing.”

    Yup, I wish you could have been there to see it.

    Again, thank you for your stories, your wisdom, your humor, your down-to-earthiness, and your willingness to share what is in your heart. Sometimes you just make my soul sing.


  4. Beth Heeren says

    My friend Patricia from Costa Rica used to say that when you see a cardinal in your backyard, a new baby is on the way. Though silly, this gave me hope while going through infertility treatments. I now have three (mostly grown) children…but I still love to see those cardinals in our backyard!

  5. Sue Rube says

    I loved your column about the birds. We are fortunate enough to have a backyard full of them. A nest of baby robins hatched right outside out back door a few days ago. They were so fun to watch. My favorite is to hear the mourning doves cooing. If I believed in reincarnation I would choose to come back as a bird so I could soar over everything and live freely. Thanks again for all the good reading you provide.

  6. Bonnie Miller says

    Have loved you for so many years!!❤️
    My step daughter was talking about listening to the birds sing , and how she loves to listen, just yesterday.
    From Abilene, Texas where we met you in person one time.

  7. Charlotte Tolhurst says

    I remember your 1st husband as I was an Assistant Principal @ Monterey high , retirement, filling in for the Assistant Principal for some reason & that’s how I met your husband. An awesom teacher & coach & that’s why I still remember him today. RIP

  8. Carolyn Jones says

    I’m reading this on Sunday morning! I did not make it to church today as my friend, who takes me cannot drive temporarily due to cataracts! So I’m spending some time on the comp. I found this so poignant because birds were something my husband and I watched while he was dying of cancer also. We lived on a first floor condo with trees right outside our huge window and door. He put up bird feeders and we had a family of birds that came regularly. We also had a pair of squirrel’s that did their best to reach the feeders and it was hilarious watching them! As a young girl, living on a farm in Indiana, I use to go our and lay in the grass and just watch the birds fly in and out of their nests in the summer time! Thanks for the column and bring back happy memories!!!

  9. I also had a silver tooth. It was the summer between high school and college and I had to wear the silver tooth for 9 month. I decided to write a memoir of my first days at college and its title was to be called “9 months make a tooth”. I never did write it.

  10. Thank you for sharing your life with us. I often feel like we must have lived close to each other as many of our stories share a common theme. I feel like you are one of my best friends even though we have never met. Thanks again.

  11. Shelia Koonts says

    I’m sitting on my porch in NC hearing birds, cars going by & my neighbor mowing his grass. Can smell it too. Love your columns. Just heard “purty, purty, purty.” How about that?

  12. Sharon,
    I have always loved the birds. They remind me of my dad whom I lost way too early in my life. But, I continue to enjoy them and our twin grandsons are now quite adept at identifying them. Earlier this month, when I should have known better, I decided to run across the parking lot to my car so I wouldn’t get too wet and WHAM! I landed on my knee and face! After surgery to repair my broken knee, I was at home with my handy walker watching outside the door. A marvelously bright red cardinal, not too big, landed right on my deck railing, gave me a quick look and flew off. And, only seconds later, another landed in the same spot and did the same thing! Quite a thrill for me after 2 weeks of laying on the couch. I have always heard that cardinals are a sign from our loved ones in heaven, I’m hoping it was a sign from my mom and dad.

  13. Betty Fain says

    I love your column! Always brings a smile or a tear and many times both. Keep writing!

  14. Betty Fain says

    I love everything you write. Always brings a smile or a tear sometimes both! Keep writing.

  15. Marcy Terry says

    I’m in Asheville NC right now reading this and listening to a chorus of birds outside our Grove Park Inn window happily chirping away, not a care in the world. Beautiful day. Thank you Sharon, for sharing. So sweet. ❤️

  16. Betty McNall says

    Love your story, thank you! I look and wait for them!

  17. We have guineas, and, let me tell you, they are fun birds to watch. Also, a few Saturdays ago, my son and I walked into the church and found a black bird perched on the Christ candle. What a surprise!

    And, of course, I woke up to the birds singing this morning! (But since the A/C will likely go on today, I probably won’t hear them tomorrow morning since the window will be shut.)

  18. Beverly Davisson says

    Good Morning, It’s early morning here in the WV Hills, as my Husband leaves to go to work in the mines. I Love there songs in early morning & day. When I lost my Mother 10 yrs ago, I sat on our porch, watching the birds that spring. They gave me peace, they helped heal my Soul& Heart. They still do today.

  19. Jeri Duncan says

    Always look forward to your column!! It sometimes feeds my sole. Always makes me smile! Thank you for your column!!

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