by Maureen Koch from Victoria, BC
There is a common belief that if you touch a bird’s nest, or the eggs within it, or, heaven forbid, the tiny birds that emerge from those eggs, that little bit of Life will not survive. The parent birds will never return, so the rule goes, after a human hand has touched it. I am not sure this is true.
Every Spring a bird builds its nest in the clematis that drapes over our front stoop. From a bird’s point of view, this is probably like buying the cutest little bungalow in the dodgiest area of town: while the entryway to our home is framed by pale flowers falling like a pink waterfall, the nests built here have inevitably fallen prey to the neighbourhood gang of crows. So, that year, when I once again discovered a tiny sparrow’s nest perched in the clematis, my heart sank a little. Dumb birds, I thought.
Just the same, the miracle of a nest captured my imagination. Every day, I would watch the to and fro of the birds, and then would secretly peek in on the nest to see -- first, four impossibly tiny eggs and then, four dandelion-like fuzz balls with beaks. It really was a wonder. There’s no way to escape the magic of this natural phenomenon.
But the predictable happened. One day, as I prepared a snack for our five-year-old son, Dean, we heard the cacophony of cawing crows and the shrieks of sparrows. I raced out the front door, with a pot in hand to scare the vandals off. But, as I looked up at the nest, we saw a crow swooping up into the sky, with a chunk of the nest trailing from its mouth. I was too late.
“This is the natural way,” I cautioned myself, trying not to become too sentimental about this heart-wrenching event. Little Dean, much closer to the ground than I, suddenly pointed out, “There’s a bird!” And, indeed, there was a tiny bird – like a miniature, feathered dinosaur, sitting on the grass, having been dumped out of its nest by the raid. And then we found another and then another. Three tiny birds, untouched by the predator crow. Only one had become lunch. The remaining small sparrows appeared unharmed by their near-death experience.
Well, here is what happened next. As I sadly reflected on the fate of the fourth unlucky sparrow, my glance settled on our old Labrador-cross dog, Mica. Mica’s nose seemed angled downward, toward the ground, while her eyes cast upwards toward Dean and me. She looked guilty – there is no other way to describe that expression on a dog. To my horror I saw two little sticks coming out of her mouth. But, no, they were not sticks – they were legs – bird legs! “Drop that bird!” I commanded our Bird-Dog. Mica’s obedience school days were long behind her, but my tone must have communicated a lot, because that dog slowly, reluctantly, spat out Bird Number Four. Expecting the worst, I gathered up the tiny body in my palm. And, do you know that sparrow was perfectly fine – just a bit wet.
Little Dean and I quickly reconstructed the busted nest, using some cotton batten and a few well-placed branches. We set all four little birds back into their renovated home. And we waited. I must admit that I worried we might have condemned those small creatures to a more grisly death in that nest, than had we left them on the ground, victims of the next cat that crossed by. But, by dinnertime, the parents were back, busy feeding their hungry brood. That family of birds survived and left the nest on their own accord.
Sometimes things work out just as you hope.