Lifestyles Of The Rich And Feathery: Living Rooms And Cafes For Birds –
It may not look like much from the outside, but the little nesting box Kate MacRae built in her English garden boasts a world of creature comforts.
There are books on the shelf, a potted plant, and even wallpaper imprinted with the most dapper of designs.
“You’re looking at months of planning and work,” MacRae tells MNN. “Over the winter, I tend to come up with a lot of these ideas and do a lot of the builds.”
A view from the doorway to the well-appointed nesting box. (Photo: Kate MacRae)
But would the intended resident, a blue tit, approve of it all? Would she — or he — make this a real home for the spring? Maybe the wallpaper isn’t quite right, or the book selection not up to snuff.
All of these questions consumed MacRae over the winter as she prepared the tiny living room for springtime visitors to her garden in Lichfield, Staffordshire.
Then the moment finally came. A blue tit poked a curious head inside.
A blue tit goes house hunting… (Photo: Kate MacRae)
The bird seemed to approve of the decor — with one notable exception.
It needed more moss.
(Photo: Kate MacRae)
Lots and lots of moss.
(Photo: Kate MacRae)
So the little bird ducked out, only to return with heap after heap of the stuff. She dumped it all on the living room floor, and, with a great stirring of wings, shaped a little nest — just beside the bookshelf where a tiny statue of a cat looked on with apparent approval.
Yes… yes… this will do just fine.
(Photo: Kate MacRae)
And so this blue tit made a home in what is perhaps the most meticulously crafted birdhouse ever seen.
But how do we get to see so much of this surreal and intimate scene?
Well, that’s thanks to another fixture in MacRae’s living room — a high-definition camera that streams constantly to our own living rooms and cubicles.
Think of it as Big Brother for bird lovers.
Rooms with a view
Over the last decade or so, MacRae, wildlife expert and consultant, has gained a worldwide following with live streams of wildlife in very human-esque environs.
In the winter of 2017, she created a tiny snack bar in her garden, complete with fizzy drinks, bottled water, sandwiches and cupcakes. A micro-microwave oven and a potted plant completed the scene.
In reality, the only snacks the birds appreciated were the sunflower seeds and suet pellets. But, in the middle of winter, it proved a powerful draw for them — as well as humans from around the world who tuned in.
Dollhouse furniture has proven just the right size for birds. (Photo: Kate MacRae)
“Of course, the wildlife doesn’t know what I’ve created,” MacRae says. “To them it’s just either a feeding platform or a feeding station or another nest box. They have no concept of what I’m creating at all.
“As long as there’s feed available or the nest space is a suitable place for them to nest, they don’t mind.”
But that’s not the point. She sees those painstakingly crafted environments as the perfect draw for curious humans.
“I really do aim to create a platform with which I can capture imaginations — and get an audience who possibly wouldn’t normally log in or watch a wildlife camera,” she explains.
“And then I can use that as a platform to educate people and to encourage them to have an interest in British wildlife. I think if they have an interest, they’re more likely to care and they’re more likely to do something about it to protect wildlife.”
This blue tit wasted no time in making the space her own. (Photo: Kate MacRae)
For MacRae, who goes by “Wildlife Kate” on her blog, building diminutive digs for her feathered friends is also a labor of love. She’s an animal expert and consultant who also spends a couple of hours a week in a classroom inspiring kids to know and love the local wildlife.
But winter finds MacRae hard at work crafting those spectacular spring creations. She uses dollhouse furniture — at 1/12 scale — “because it’s just the right size for birds and small mammals.”
“I actually design the box, and I’ve got a few friends who help me make the boxes up specifically for these projects,” she explains. “And I experiment with different bits of furniture and things that I know aren’t going to cause any damage to the birds.”
This year, she created two living rooms, replete with shelves and art and even fresh flowers. And the response has been overwhelming.
At times, it certainly does seem like the resident is basking in the ambiance. (Photo: Kate MacRae)
“The two nest boxes I’ve done this year — my Twitter feed has just gone crazy,” she says. “They’re really popular, just because I think it’s something a bit different.”
That kind of technical reach, particularly when it comes to the live streams, wouldn’t be possible without support from longtime partner CJ Wildlife.
“Without a sponsor here in the UK, I’d struggle to do a lot of the crazy projects that I do,” she says.
But those madcap ideas are precisely what draws in her ever-growing audience.
“In today’s world you have to go that extra mile. You have to think outside the box.”
Or, in this case, inside the box.
“To me, it’s just amazing that I made a little box here in my garden in the UK — and I suddenly get a phone call from someone in Canada,” she explains. “And you think, ‘Crikey, there’s people all over the world watching my birds in a little sitting room in a tree in my garden.’
“To me, that’s pretty incredible.”