Daisy and I discovered the birds in June. Daisy is an overweight tuxedo cat with a kind face and the patience of a saint; her happiness matters to me as much as my own. For 10 years, we lived in an apartment in the middle of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with two other people and one other cat. One of Daisy’s greatest joys was watching the birds on the roof of a neighboring building from the warmth of the radiator. She is as low-maintenance as an expensive ottoman, but her passion for ornithology knows no bounds. Over the course of a decade, I watched with pleasure as my silent cat found her voice and unleashed the predator within, chirping and trilling at the birds outside, her jaw moving like an animatronic character.
But then in August of last year, we moved to a different apartment, a place of our very own that afforded us space and silence but gave Daisy fewer vantage points for bird-watching. For a time, she tried to see the birds out of the kitchen window, but the windowsill was too narrow to contain her girth.
As spring crept into summer, I could tell that she missed the birds. For a while, we endured a morning ritual where I held her up to the kitchen window so she could see the outside world, cherishing this bonding time as she screamed in ecstasy. That solution proved unsustainable — she’s heavy and I have things to do — so I had to come up with something else. Naturally, I turned to YouTube.
Search “TV for cats” and you’ll find hundreds of hourslong videos, shot in beautiful HD, of birds and other fauna at a feeder, or in the grass, darting in and out of frame for eight to 10 hours at a time. When I pressed play on the first video that I found (“My Garden Birds — Relaxing Nature Music for Cats to Sleep”), I wasn’t expecting much, perhaps a bird or two pecking at a pile of seeds followed by four hours of nothing. But the action on-screen immediately caught Daisy’s attention, as she parked herself on the floor in front of the TV, mouth agape, like a child inhaling episodes of “Paw Patrol.”
When a starling swooped in to investigate some seeds on a log, Daisy swatted at the TV, growling in frustration. With each new bird that arrived on-screen, she changed her approach, splaying herself flat on the floor and then pouncing in vain. After five minutes, she recognized this grift for what it was and returned to the chair where she spends most of her time. Nonetheless, I left YouTube on autoplay and would occasionally park myself on the sofa to watch.
Because I am not a cat, I felt no primal urges when watching the footage, but every time my sweet, round ward hefted herself onto the sofa next to me to shriek at her new friends, I wondered what they were really doing for her. It was clear that she knew these birds were two-dimensional, but when they showed up seemingly unbidden, she was always energized, even if briefly. Petting her solemnly one day in an attempt to penetrate her mind, it occurred to me that the TV birds were interesting simply because they were not me.
After the move, our worlds necessarily contracted. Daisy’s well-being is entirely my responsibility now; she depends on me for food, water, attention, conversation and general maintenance. For years I had assumed she’d be happier by herself, away from the oppressive thumb of her cat roommate, Crusty, a real charmer who took advantage of her tendency to eat slowly as an opportunity for seconds. But now I wondered if she missed her old life, with its petty kitty turf wars and loud, multiple humans. Boredom sometimes calcifies into loneliness, and for Daisy, the birds seemed to fix a problem I didn’t even know she had. It didn’t just give her prey to hiss at; it opened her world back up.
In the ideal version of my life, Daisy and I would live in a sprawling home with outdoor space. I’d lounge on a chair parked on a brick patio while Daisy would explore a patch of grass, capturing a small mouse between her tiny jaws and presenting the body to me with pride. Our essential natures do not change in this fantasy — we are still just two women coexisting in peace — but Daisy gets to live a little more.
Watching Daisy watch YouTube was a reminder of who she has the potential to be. And as I watched, too, I let the calm nature sounds soothe me out of my human brain, with its anxieties about professional inertia and what I was going to cook for dinner that night. The birds transported me into a world in which I was closer to some essential version of myself, serene with a sense of perspective and surrounded by beauty. In short: The birds brought out the best in both of us.
When I wake up now, Daisy waits in front of the TV, staring at the screen, patient and unmoving. I make some coffee, prepare my breakfast and sit on the couch, flicking through the videos until I find one that meets my requirements (flowers and green trees are my preferred settings). It’s a ritual that satisfies the part of me that needs quiet — and the part of Daisy that doesn’t.
Megan Reynolds is a writer and editor who lives in New York.