Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps a singing bird will come. Lois Lowry
There’s an old barn in our front yard, a remnant of a school project of bygone years. Its red and white paint is not as vibrant as it once was and the weather-beaten walls have cracks. Much to my chagrin, no creatures have lived in it since I’ve been here. And no amount of wishing lured any birds to move in either. Many years ago it housed a wren family every summer, I was told. The entrance had been made especially small, so only petite birdies would fit. Hanging from a sturdy branch it swayed in the breeze, lonely and empty.
I was tired of waiting for some small bird to come along and build a nest in it, so tentatively suggested to my stepson, Geoffrey, to make the hole bigger. Knowing he was the one who built the bird barn, I wasn’t sure how that would fly. However, remembering the year before when a pair of tree swallows tried their best to get inside, I had to voice my idea.
A day later, the alteration finished, I eagerly
watched from my vantage point. Somebody must have told the swallow couple about
the new opening –less than a week later they were there to stake their claim. Finally
I’ll get the chance to observe a feathered family settle in, raise their young,
and admire the fledglings when they leave home. And I would have a front row
seat through our living room window!I hadn’t thought of this scenario, but apparently some
sparrows seemed to think that, since they live here year round, they should
have first dibs on the old house. Year-rounders or not, I was rooting for the
tree swallows. After days of bird-bickering and aerial fights, the sparrows
gave up and the building continued. For the next few weeks, dried grass and
feathers were brought to the barn-house, mostly by the female. For days on end
she smoothly glided past our window countless times with a beak-full of
building material. From my observation, the male acted as foreman at this
construction site, and only stopped by every so often to oversee the progress.
Before long, however, the foreman role changed to devoted soon-to-be papa. He was kept busy bringing food for mama who didn’t venture too far from home and her eggs. I couldn’t wait to get my first glimpse of the babies and was so excited when a tiny head peered out one day. Now both mama and papa flew back and forth all day long, feeding their young. Sometimes three tiny heads were visible at the same time, mouths wide open waiting for juicy bugs.
I once heard fledglings are pushed out of the nest by the parents and was looking forward to seeing how this would play out. Sometimes it seemed one of the babies was wondering the same thing, as it poked its head out of the hole and looked way down to the ground below. I hoped they’d be alright when they’d finally left the nest, especially with a number of dogs around. Since the fledglings were fully feathered, I know it wouldn’t be long until they would leave home.
Days later as I was folding laundry, I noticed mama frantically darting around the tree. I took a closer look and saw a squirrel, but it seemed like it was merely trying to get to the dog dishes beside the tree. I grabbed my phone and started recording as the squirrel went to the dog’s water dish for a drink, with mama swallow swooping down towards it, trying to scare it away. The squirrel seemed nervous too and soon scurried back up the tree. It stopped suddenly and seemingly noticed the birdhouse for the first time and clambered on top of it. This really sent mama bird into an anxious state, flying around furiously.
As the squirrel made its way to the opening, I thought that there was no way this squirrel would fit through the hole. It worked extremely hard trying to get inside, while I watched and wondered if a squirrel would actually eat baby birds. I was horrified when it actually got part way through the hole. Down went my phone as I hurried outside looking for something long to reach the bird house. By then I was angry enough to want that squirrel dead. Perfect, a hoe stood waiting for me right beside the front door. The squirrel came out of the birdhouse just as I got to the tree. I poked at it with my weapon, as it was trying to get inside the bird house again. It apparently feared my hoe and scampered away from the nest. I stopped on a branch and looked back, probably to see if I was still there.
Then a blackbird joined the battle, siding with mama swallow and me. What a gutsy bird! It chased that scoundrel squirrel through leaves and branches, staying right above it squawking loudly, as it scurried up and down trees and out of sight. I stood watching in awe, still holding on to my hoe. I wasn’t sure what to make of that chase, since just a few days before a blackbird visited the tree, causing some anxious moment for the swallow pair, who seemed to sense danger. Nothing came of it though, as the blackbird simply flew away.
My eyes turned back to mama bird who was still anxiously darting around the tree. Not a sound came from her home. A few feathers clung to the opening, a sorrowful reminder of the harm inflicted by a squirrel in mere minutes. After a while the swallow mama flew away, not even going near her nest. I haven't seen her since. A few hours later I witnessed another somber moment as papa swallow flew around in front of the nest; but he too didn’t go near the opening. I stood by the window in silent lament, as it dawned on me, if I had intervened sooner, ours might still be a happy song.
I know squirrels have to eat too, and have since learned, that they only go after eggs and baby birds when they’re unable to find other food around their habitat. However, it doesn't ease the sadness that the bird family I had the joy of watching for weeks, ended so tragically. Three babies were inside the birdhouse when Geoffrey cleaned it out next day. I, like the swallow parents, could not bear to look at the deceased babies.
Looking at the lonely bird house, swaying in the breeze, makes me sad, especially since I won’t get to watch the young swallows leave their nest. But there is always the hope that another feathered family will call the old barn home one day.