I love waking up to birdsong in the morning. But when I hear chirping outside my office at this time of year, I know that a struggle is about to ensue between me and springtime couples checking out the real estate.
Sweetheart Al built me a charming office cottage on the hillside above our home. This perfect workplace has a front porch, a picture window and sits within a grove of oaks. Every spring, finch and grosbeak couples enthusiastically explore the beam that runs the length of my porch.
Tucked under the roof with about a 6-inch clearance, the beam is about 15 feet from the ground, offering protection both from above and below.
I can sit here at my desk and watch the feathered couples during their eager inspection. The female is busy measuring and imagining the nest here or there, while the male stands off to the side watching. I can just see her little birdbrain saying, "Perfect! Just perfect for raising a family." And he’s saying encouragingly, "Looks good to me, honey."
The problem is that I come and go throughout the day. If the birds build a nest on my porch beam, the female will be frightened off repeatedly, and will finally abandon it.
For the last few years, a very determined couple worked daily on their nests. Each afternoon I’d brush away their work, saying gently, "Please build somewhere else and we’ll both be happier."
They eventually got the message and built in a nearby tree. There, they raised their young in peace.
Last year, Sweetheart Al and I spent 10 days in Death Valley photographing wildflowers, and when we returned, there was a completed nest with eggs, right outside my window.
I tried my best to limit my comings and goings. Despite my efforts, I frightened the little mother repeatedly and she’d go flying off in a panic. Fortunately, as time went on, she returned more and more quickly to her nest.
Hope filled me and I started thinking, "Maybe this will work. Maybe I’ll be able to watch this family grow."
Soon there were two babes in the nest. They were quiet when the parents were away, but the minute mom or dad returned, both mouths opened wide and there was nothing but noise and commotion--little wings flapping, little bodies pushing against one another.
I loved watching the father feed the mother while she was on the nest. It looked like kissing. And they both fed the babes.
The babies grew rapidly. Soon they looked bigger than the parents. And those poor little parents were run ragged flying back and forth with food all day. The bigger the baby birds got, the more aggressive they became. And as they lunged toward their parents, they kicked the nest around.
That’s when I learned how truly dangerous the beam was. Unlike trees, where the birds could actually fasten the nest to branches and twigs, the nest outside my window simply sat on the beam. Although beautifully designed, and perfectly protected from rain and wind, there was nothing to hold it in place.
One afternoon when I glanced up from my work to see how the fat little babes were doing, I was shocked by a totally bare beam.
I ran outside. On the ground below, was a slightly smashed nest and no trace of the babies. For any of the predators around here – the coyotes, fox, raccoons, bobcats, hawks, owls, snakes – two baby birds would be as delicious as a mini candy bar.
For days, the parents returned again and again, checking the beam, talking in little sad chirps to each other. Sometimes they brought nest-building materials, but I’d brush them away.
It was heartbreaking. For all concerned.
Today, the first sunny day after weeks of rain and fog and icy cold, I heard the chirping. Looking up from my desk, I saw my first grosbeak couple, checking out the beam. I quickly went outside, waved my arms, and made a lot of "Not here. This place is dangerous" noise.
For the next few weeks this will be my daily task: To discourage eager young couples who want to set up housekeeping at my little office cottage. Wish me luck.
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