Sunday, January 23, 2005

Adventures in Backyard Birding

I recently cleaned out the seven birdhouses scattered about yard. I’ve only put out one bluebird house with the intention of a specific resident and that never happened. Over this past summer I had three house wrens nests and several abandoned nests made up of a few twigs each. But no bluebirds. I remember last spring when I discovered 6-9 bluebirds arguing over nest sites in my yard. I didn’t see any any bluebirds in my neighborhood for the rest of the year until now and only one last year. An hour later they were all gone, again. The wrens, gone for several months re-appeared and then disappeared, too. Crazy neighborhood.

Last winter was cleaning out a colorful birdhouse that the wrens use, next to my tool shed, only to discover a small collection of uneaten sunflower seed. I usually carry the seed sack, full or empty, to the back part of my yard--maybe 30 yards--from the tool shed, and back to the shed, for each feeding. If I had known that seed was going to be stored so close to the shed I’d saved myself the trip.

Imagining the reaction of whoever’s seed I’d cleaned out of the bird house, reminded me of Mark Twain’s “Jim Bakers’ Bluejay Tale.” In it, Jim Baker recounts the antics and surprise of a bluejay (sic) that attempts to fill up a cabin with acorns. (a-kerns as we say in these parts) only to be laughed at by his fellow jays as a spectacle for doing something so stupid. So I could imagine wren, instead of a blue jay, stashing his (or her) sunflower seed and coming back to find them all gone and trying to explain to the housemate what happened. Stashing some more, and more, and more, only to find that they completely kept disappearing.

I apologized.

I have (I just counted) seven bird houses still scattered around the property. They are in various shapes, sizes, and conditions. My property is on a corner, 1/2 acre, with a tree lot opposite the corner. I have nice gathering of birds during the year with a few noticable exceptions. My most common house users are the House Wrens. They have taken over a variety of houses which has led me to suggest they are squatter of opportunity who have not read the birdhouse building books. So far the wrens have built in three distinctively different places and there are more wrens than I’ve been able to locate. In spring and summer I am surrounded by them and since I sleep with windows open I barely need an alarm clock. The three I know are unevenly spaced apart, have been used as often as once to continuously used.

One house is a decorative present that looks like a Swiss ski lodge. It has a baby blue high peaked roof and pink sides and white hole. And a white chimney (or maybe it’s a steeple?). The wrens have liked this one the most and I have to be sure to keep it cleaned out but one time I was a bit aggressive and ended up killing a youngin. Not 20 feet away is a ceramic upside-down flower pot with a bottom where the top ought to be. If wrens are supposed to like depth below the hole then is house is not wren-ready. But they use it! Mostly it hangs a bit too low for me and it is quite heavy and stout such that I forget it’s there when mowing and have cracked my skull several times with it. That, of course, has not been a concern of the wrens. The only other place I’ve found a nest is in the tubular framework of my canopy over the downstairs patio. This is a fairly ordinary aluminum framed canopy with corrogated roof. They like to find a spot in the corners and have on occasion been flooded out since the framework acts as gutter for the top. I doubt wrens are much aware of high water marks but you’d thought they would do a better job of site selection.