I once had the honor of caring for a tiny pair of green and speckled white birds called Star Finches. The local pet store saw me as a potential bird owner and informed that me if I wanted them, they would also include a cage and enough food for months for just $100. Although I had never owned birds, I felt like I was rescuing them from some unknown fate. They were delightful creatures from the start. They would sing to each other all day everyday when the were not sleeping or eating, and when they were nesting, they would do an amazing courtship dance for one another. The male, or perhaps it was the female, I never knew which was which, would hold a 4 or 5 inch long piece of nesting material that I had provided. It would hold it in its beak with the very tip of it dangling down, and then proceed to sway it back and forth rhythmically, all the while singing to its lovely mate. Gradually he would begin to lift it up higher while his song became intense and glorious as he moved very close to the partner. Then the partner would take hold of the material at the other end, and together they would add it to the nest. Over and over they repeated this ritual during the nest building. They never had any eggs, but they seemed to love building their nest. For five years I listened to their delightful singing. When we moved into our new home, they both died within a day. I wondered if it was toxic fumes from the building materials that were still in the air, or perhaps at such an old age the change was too much. I loved them. I felt awful about losing them. Soon I decided to get another caged bird, a canary named Harry. He was a beautiful golden color and had a song, but he would only sing when other sounds were happening such as water running or music playing, or lots of talking, and he lived for 7 years. I enjoyed owning caged birds, but I don’t think I will ever do it again. I began to feel very sad they were in a cage, so now I have binoculars, and I enjoy watching them whenever I am outdoors.
Beautiful bluebirds, Baltimore Orioles, Orchard Orioles, Goldfinches, Chickadees, 2 different varieties of Nuthatches, Cardinals, Mourning Doves, Red Head Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, Purple Finches, Mockingbirds, Bluejays, Towhees, Flickers, Robins, Ruby Throat-ed Hummingbirds, Pilate-d Woodpeckers, Summer Tanagers, the mighty Hawks, Owls, wily Crows, strange buzzards, and large wild turkeys. One day I was sitting outside on my porch and watching before all the leaves had come out on the trees, and I saw seven different colorful birds all in the same tree making a huge fuss. I watched as the bright yellow male Goldfinch, gorgeous Bluebird with his red breast, Bright red Cardinal, Orange and black Oriole, and several others flitted back and forth squawking away all in the very same tree! I knew this was unusual and something was going on there, so I decided to investigate. I walked down the hill to where they were all flitting around in the tree, and I was startled when I saw, very close at eye level, a huge black snake draped on one of the lower branches of the tree. He slithered up the tree further as I watched. Sadly, I was sure that he was threatening their nests. I could do nothing, but I was glad I was witness to the sight of all those different species of colorful male birds that to me looked like ornaments in a tree gathering together, supporting each other like people of different races who join together as an army to fight a threatening foe. I will never forget that amazing sight. It was a gift.
Post Script: Although I wrote the above over a year ago and did not publish it, I was amazed when this past week I was witness to the same strange occurrence in the world of birds. Walking back from the lower garden on a dew laden, cool, early spring morning, I noticed brightly colored, completely different species of male birds again all in the same tree that stands beside the creek, chirping, squeaking and carrying on such a fuss. Only the male Bluebird was flying, diving low, swooping towards his bird house that we had made for him. I stood silently and watched, fearing that something was very wrong. Suddenly, I noticed with alarm what was causing this mighty disruption, another large snake was now draped across the top of the Bluebirds nesting box! I slowly walked toward it but as soon as it noticed me, it slithered through the opening and went inside the box! Perhaps I can get it out! Quickly I ran to the house to get a screw driver to loosen the door on the side of the birdhouse. When I returned, all the male birds had now moved to another tree where they felt safe watching me. I opened the box quickly, and there was the snake curled tightly up in the tiny nest. Using the screwdriver I pushed him onto the ground, he looked at me, as if to say, “Why did you do that?” all the while smelling me by sticking out his long, forked tongue. He was several feet long and had interesting shades of grey in a diamond pattern all along the length of his body. I told him “Please go away and leave the birds nest alone.” He slithered into the tall grass, never stopping to look back at me. I stood and waited as the male Bluebird came back and while standing on top of his house, he was straining to look inside at his now empty nest. I am not sure he will trust that nest again this spring, too risky for he and his beautiful mate. We will build more nesting boxes for them. The snakes here are here to stay, they eat rodents and occasionally our chickens eggs. I just wish they would leave the birds alone. Snakes are protected in the state of Tennessee. We live in such a magnificent universe of interesting and strange creatures. It is such a gift to observe them in there native world. No more cages for my birds.
My last bird story… One time years ago, I found a nest in a tree. What amazed me about it was that around the rim of the grey twig nest the tiny bird had placed around the rim at the top of the nest, 3 or 4 perfect, bright red, feathers (probably from a Cardinal). The speckled eggs in the nest were those of a common sparrow, but that bird had decorated his nest with them! It was something else that will be always imprinted on my memory. Nature has so much to share. We are not the only creatures on earth who love, sing, gather together as one to help against a common foe, dance rhythmically with joy as we create, and as true artists in our short earthly lives, we all have decorated our nest.