Saturday, April 30, 2016

Still Life with Robin: War of the Birds

Downed birds' nest
by Peggy Robin

It’s war. And it’s happening right on my front porch. It’s been waged in a stealth campaign, in secret raids that have happened under the cover of dusk or dawn -- I’m not sure which…. I’ve only seen the aftermath. I’m not even sure of the species of the combatants. They may all be birds, or one side may be small mammals -- squirrels are always suspect. I can say for sure only that one side is losing. Or may already have lost.

Just two weeks ago, there were no signs of the conflict that would later leave devastation on my porch. There was domestic tranquility, in the form of a well-constructed nest seated securely under the eaves of the front porch roof. This year I did not actually see the nesting pair, but in past years, we’ve had mourning doves. They make a melodious cooing sound (listen to it here: – about 17 seconds in), but otherwise they are quiet, and do no harm. They lay their eggs, incubate them, feed and nurture the chicks until they’re fledged, and then they’re gone.

Perhaps the same pair came back to the same place. Or perhaps there’s competition among birds for that nesting spot. Or it could be the squirrels who control the pear tree in the front yard regard as a threat any creature choosing to build a home within a certain number of feet. I can’t say I understand the motive for the attack; I can only report the result.  About a week ago, I came out to the front porch to find about half the nest down on the porch floor – a scattering of twigs and some kind of cotton-y stuffing. Above me, the other half of the nest appeared to be holding together on the porch beam above. What had produced this odd, semi-destruction? I surmised an attempt to take down the whole nest, that had been, in the end, successfully fought off; the attackers having retreated with the job half done. There was much damage to the nest but it was not irreparable. That was proven within a few days, when I saw the nest restored to its previous shape and size. Though I never saw the reconstruction going on, the birds had made clear that they would do whatever it took to repair, restore, and defend their home. I thought they had won.

Until this morning, that is. I went out to retrieve the newspaper and found the entire nest upside-down on the porch floor. It seems this time, they’d lost all. There’s barely a twig left in the space above. There were no eggs in the mess on the ground – that’s one small mercy. But is this the end of the war? Will they now give up and try to stake out a new territory and build a new home in some other place? Or will they come back and try to reclaim their place in the eaves? Could it be too late in the season for them to do either one? And what determines their course of action? Do they assess the situation? Or blindly follow their instincts? I will admit I know little about these things. But I’m on their side and hope they can recover. Just not here… I think they just can’t win. At least not this year.


Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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