A Few Words About Nests

Spring is proceeding apace in this yard, despite my worst fears. For 28 of the 29 years that my husband and I have lived in this house, the elderly widow next door mostly shared our commitment to a natural yard. And because her house backed up to a little patch of woods, too, between us we managed to create a miniature wildlife sanctuary. I could sit outside in springtime and hold very still while a tufted titmouse pulled hairs from my head and carried them to her nest in the yard next door.

After my neighbor’s death last year, a backhoe demolished the house and nearly all the old trees along with it. I worried about what would happen to the birds now that so many nesting sites were gone.

In most ways, it’s been a glorious spring anyway, despite the ceaseless hammering next door. The spring beauties and woodland violets are nearly bloomed out now, but already other flowers have taken their place. It will be this way till frost.

And yet, all spring, our yard has been bereft of nests. By mid-April we would normally have bluebirds in the nest box in the front yard, chickadees in at least one of the boxes in the side yards, and Carolina wrens in the pots hanging from the eaves out back (or, last year, in the bag where I keep my clothespins). There’s almost always a robin nest in the cherry tree, a mockingbird nest in the holly beside the driveway, and a cardinal nest in one of the foundation plants.

One year a pair of cardinals nested in a shrub so close to the house it brushed our bedroom window. I left the curtains closed to keep from bothering the birds, but every now and then I would poke the lens of my camera through the crack where the curtains came together. In that way I watched the female sit patiently on her eggs through cold nights and spring rains. I was watching, too, when both babies took their first flight.

Most songbird nests are miracles of architecture and engineering. A mourning dove is a sloppy engineer, but nearly everybody else goes to great lengths to create the perfect nursery. Bluebirds weave pine straw into a shallow cup so perfect you would swear opposable thumbs were involved. Carolina wrens build elaborate domed nests embellished with skeletonized leaves.

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