Jan and Michael McKay’s backyard is strictly for the birds.
Bird feeders are arranged around the edge of the patio and along the perimeter fence, which itself is adorned with about a half-dozen birdhouses. The feeders are stocked with grains and nuts, seeds and suet, set up in clusters.
“I’d say we have about a dozen feeding stations,” Michael McKay said. “As to the number of individual feeders, I’d have to go and count. I’ll put it this way — birds aren’t going to go hungry around here.”
As he speaks, a brilliantly yellow goldfinch is pecking away at one of the holes in a cylindrical feeder, pausing to make sure the two-legged creatures watching it make no sudden moves.
“He’s so pretty!” Jan McKay said, raising to her eye a digital camera with a telephoto lens to get a closer look.
“We have binoculars, but we never use them,” she said, after snapping a picture of the goldfinch. “Don’t really need them, with this camera set-up.”
In the far corner of the yard is a metal pole, about 24 feet tall, that resembles a TV antenna.
“There used to be a tree in that corner where waxwings loved to perch,” Jan McKay said. “But it died and was knocked over in a storm. I didn’t want the birds to lose their perching spot, so I put up a metal tree for them. And lots of birds use it now.”
Part of the reason the McKays have over the past decade or so outfitted their Broken Arrow backyard, which backs up to a stretch of Haikey Creek, into a gathering place for the local winged fauna is practical. Jan McKay is a professional artist, whose work often features wildlife as its subject matter.
“I like to do my own photographic references,” she said. “I love painting blue jays and cardinals and the like.”
McKay’s career in art grew out of tragedy. In October 2008, the couple’s 14-year-old daughter, Stephanie, died of injuries she had sustained in a car accident.
Stephanie had been the artist in the family, one of the many talents she developed in her young life. Her art instructor suggested that Jan try her hand at painting as a way to continue her daughter’s passion for art.
Within a couple of years, she was accomplished enough to leave behind a career in interior design to pursue painting full time, selling her work at local festivals and through her website, artbyjanmckay.com
“I so love the beauty in nature, from the insects to lions, tigers and bears,” said Jan McKay, who is in training to be licensed as an animal rehabilitator through WING-IT (Wildlife in Need Group in Tulsa). “For me, to experience the natural world in any way, even in my backyard, is a spiritual experience. We’re all God’s creatures, great and small.”
And some of God’s creatures have to make sure the feeders are filled up and set out each morning.
That is Michael McKay’s job.
“I sort of got dragged into all this,” he said, with a chuckle. “My day begins with a cup of coffee and setting up all the feeders. We try to bring them in every night to keep the raccoons and opossums from cleaning them out.
“There are a lot of birds out here waiting for me every morning,” he said. “Some of them are brazen enough that they’ll fly right up to me as I am putting up a feeder and dig in.”
Dozens of different species of birds are now beginning to swoop in and feed at the various stations, but Jan McKay said this is a relatively sparse crowd because of the greater amount of natural food sources, such as berries.
“But as it gets closer to night, they really come out,” Jan McKay said. “Our favorite thing to do is sit in the pool, where they can’t see us because we’re below ground level, and just watch things happen.
“It’s like we have this little oasis where nature entertains us,” she said. “We just love it.”