Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Up to Eleven

Spring is a busy time for unaltered animals. Bees, of course, truly do define busy -- gathering pollen dawn to dusk while dodging my lightening fast jaws. I haven't caught one yet...I think they will taste like honey.

Spring squirrels, drunk with love, spend their days leaping and chasing each other round and round tree trunks -- making some very unwise maneuvers in their pursuit of pleasure.  I will catch a pair soon... just give me time...and it will give "Lovers' Leap" a whole other meaning.

Birds generally hold no interest for me -- except for pigeons and the occasional beached duck which seem fairly rodent-like in their plumpness. But I'm no bird dog.

However, on the dial of spring fervor, birds are definitely "up to an eleven" -- in the words of Spinal Tap's Nigel.

"This one goes up to eleven."

When spring birds aren't singing like Wagnerian sopranos, pounding on aluminum siding and gutters like crazed Woody Woodpeckers, or dog-fighting Red Baron-Roy Brown-style -- they are house shopping.

Each spring, we sit on the deck and watch the birds house hunt on our little urban estate. You'd think the birds would remember, "Oh, yes, this was an excellent nest box last summer. And it is move-in ready!" Or, "This nest spot was a disaster when it rained-- best not try THAT again." But each year, they consider it all again with fresh, beady bird eyes.

Some years ago, Susan and Boy #1 built a nest box together and stuck it on the north corner of the garage.

By putting on a chickadee-sized metal ring over the door, it allows entry only to those small songbirds and not pesky invasives like house sparrows. The metal ring also prevents any rodents from chewing it wider for their own purposes. Tiny songbirds only.

So far, no wrens have signed a lease. No one turns it "up to eleven" like a warbling house wren -- they sing like angels on crack. But if you have a wren nesting in the neighborhood, that's all you'll have. They are more territorial than I am.  Wrens are spend their free time destroying eggs and nestlings of all the neighbors. They'd make great mob hit men. But wrens like brushy cover and the edges of woods, so they haven't asked for showing of the nest box.

We've had better luck with black-capped chickadees who nested two-year's running and may make a new offer soon. Chickadees are cute and personable - very desirable tenants.

But chickadees would drive any realtor mad. They return over and over again to check out the box, measure the floorplan, and scope out the neighborhood. Or maybe they are a series of different pairs. They all look alike to me. Today, it looks like a pair just might be moving in.

Right around the corner, on the east side of the garage is a free-standing nest in the climbing rose bramble under the eave.

No one really remembers who built it. It's like a Roman city, layers of generations built on top of the original.

Family lore tells of a sweet robin that sat patiently for days before disappearing -- leaving behind the heartache of blue eggshells on the sidewalk. Scruffy house sparrows sporadically weave in bits of trash on clumps of dog fur from neighbor Johann. Even a mourning dove has cocked its puny little head in the nest's direction. Last summer, the takers were blue jays.

Now, blue jays have a lot to offer the eye. Blue, as you may know, is one of my favorite colors. They have a handsome substance to them...with their crests and bold voices. When they moved in last summer, my Susan was rather pleased they chose her garden. The jay couple worked diligently on home improvements and then settled in as the perfect neighbors: respectful with no loud parties.

Loud parties are hard for my Susan to take. Our street has only two college houses, one louder than the other. It isn't all that close but when there is a party, Susan seals up the windows, parks the car in the garage and puts a pillow over her head.

Mostly they are just louder and later than Susan would like. But legend has it that one dark night some drunken idiot opened the back gate and defecated a rather large pile in the middle of their cobblestone sidewalk -- right under the Roman bird nest, in fact. So Susan is sure civilization is in danger whenever the college students party.

The blue jay couple seemed very civilized when they first moved in. The pair worked together and hunkered down on the nest. We all liked their company peering out from the roses. Weeks passed peaceably.

But everything changed when the blue jay spawn hatched. Parenthood transformed those blue jays into Hitchcockian psycho birds.  They screeched and dive-bombed anything that thought about entering the back half of the yard -- including ME! And let me tell you, they are FAST. Blue jays attack from behind, smacking encroachers' heads with nasty little claws and screaming terrible bird words.

The family coped. I stayed on the deck. They took to wearing a batting helmet to take out the trash. In a few weeks, the jay family flew away together and peace returned.

It is fun to play god in the backyard. To entice nature, battle nature... Plant this plant. Pull that plant. Chase this rodent. Let that one live another day.

Sometimes it is hard to coexist even on a little plot of land in the city. How big of a doorway do we allow? Which family gets to sit on the nest under the eave this year? How much can we bend to share the space?

The jays came back this spring and spent a few days adding to the nest but then went away. Susan keeps saying she is going to remove the nest if she sees those jays again. But she doesn't have the heart. So the nest remains...waiting for the next renter.


  1. I love these posts! Thank you!

  2. Carmella! How dare you cast aspersions on the house sparrow? I mean, REALLY! Sparrows are admittedly a lowly, common bird, however, they are becoming scarce in England where they originated. The reason they were imported to the US is that a Shakespeare lover decided to bring all the birds mentioned in the bard's plays to Central Park. Sparrows and Starlings were the success stories--depending on how you look at it. (I have to admit, I don't much like starlings either.)

  3. Fear not, Ms. Sparrow. A sparrow, like yourself, would be a welcome tenant on my estate. The beloved white-throated sparrow is often heard in our bushes 'round the east side of the house. We do have a bird house on a tree trunk for house sparrows but not one has shown any interest.

    (I didn't know that about the Shakespeare lover... As well-intentioned as the importer of rabbits to Australia, I am sure.)

  4. I read a little more about House Sparrows and I was heartened to read how many bugs they eat. And they mate for life -- like geese. Best of all, they never dive-bomb me.

    I must admit, Ms. Sparrow, I love the gawky, shiny starlings. Not a terribly high class flock -- a little like a having a party house land in the yard (Susan cringes). But who can not love those speckles and yellow legs?

  5. Very well, Carmella, you have soothed my ruffled feathers. You are a good girl.