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Conservation IssuesBird Tales
Roslyn Dayan

Bird Tales - 1 RM WITH A VU
Roslyn Dayan

For Mother's Day, I was given an abundantly flowered and fragrant dark purple petunia hanging plant. I loved the color. I loved the smell. I decided I wanted to see and smell the plant as much as possible, so I hung it outside the sliding door of my deck, where I could admire it while seated on a comfortable chair talking on the telephone. Thus situated, I chatted with childhood friend Sush on the phone and admired my petunia at the same time.

About a week later, when I watered the plant, a bird flew out of it, startling both me and the bird. I had seen birds flitting around the planter, but thought nothing of it. A later inspection with a friend resulted in another bird flying out of the dense foliage and three scared participants-but now we knew. My beautiful Mother's Day plant had been inspected by the birds and found to be just the place in which to raise a family.

I watched from my dining room chair as two small birds began to fly time and time again to the planter with nesting material in their beaks. At that time I decided that watering the plant was out. My daughter Deb came to visit and I told her about the birds. She looked inside the planter when the birds had left and announced with great excitement that there was a nest on the floor of the planter, intricately woven into a dome shape with a round opening in the front. "There are five eggs in there!" she yelled. I looked, too-five small white eggs with brown speckles.

About two weeks after Mother's Day, the plant began to show signs of wear and tear from the constant bird activity and lack of water. The fragrance, and most of the blossoms, was gone. But it was in the interest in proper bird upbringing, and that was most important.

I have gone birding from time to time and belong to the Audubon Society, but on a 1-10 scale, my ability to recognize birds is about a 2. By the time I focus my binoculars on a tree, the bird is gone. But now, binoculars weren't necessary. After some consulting of Peterson's, I determined that these birds, that were now almost part of my family, were wrens.


The plant became so ragged that it was easy to see the bird in the nest. I walked up to it slowly, with no sudden movements. I looked at the wren, and she looked at me-I must have looked like a giant, but she didn't budge. I saw the white horizontal streaks near her eyes and the longish beak. Another look at Peterson's told me it was a Carolina wren-How easy to identify birds when you can get so close! I felt like a bird maven! The wren's song was described as "teakettle, teakettle, teakettle." Mom bird on the nest said nothing, but dad bird, perched on the deck rail, was sounding off. It didn't sound like "teakettle" to me, more like "chee-a-ta" or "chipetee." However you describe it, I had heard this sound in the backyard before, but could never find its source. I couldn't believe such a loud noise came from such a small bird.

On June 13, about two or three weeks after the wren had started sitting on the eggs, they hatched. I looked in after she had left the nest and found pink squirming little "things." Now dad took a more active role in providing food. Both parents were constantly flying in and out. Sometimes both arrived at the same time with food. One would perch on the long hook that held the planter until the other had fed the babies and left. Then it would enter the nest and feed them some more. I would sneak a look when both parents had gone. I saw five little yellow beaks. If I touched the planter and made it move, the five yellow mouths opened wide. After another week, the chicks were no longer pink, but were covered with dark gray feathers, and they were getting bigger. Mother no longer stayed with them at night. Their bodies were inside the nest, with all five beaks facing the opening.

Sometimes the parents returned and saw me eyeing the babies. I retreated as soon as I saw them so they could go about their feeding business. If I ate lunch on the deck, they wouldn't go to the nest, so I beat a hasty retreat into the house while they fed the young, then returned to my lunch after they flew off. After a while, I got tired of running in every time they returned. I stayed seated quietly…they came from behind me and entered the nest.

One night, the weather announcer warned that there would be a violent thunderstorm that night. Hmmm. What will happen to the baby wrens? I considered rigging an umbrella over the nest, then told myself "Don't fool with mother nature!" The nest morning, I found the five little balls of feathers just fine.

On Thursday, June 24, I was beginning my morning chores when I noticed the planter moving. I was just in time to witness the last two babies bail out on their solo flights. They landed right below the deck, in the tangle of the garden. The parents were busy, going in five different directions to keep up with them and the father kept up his singing the whole time. I lost sight of them, but could still hear his "chee-a-ta…" I saw some large birds circling above and was very worried. Would the newly arrived babies be a succulent morsel for some crows? I walked over to my neighbor, who had seen the babies in the nest. "I'm worried. Could the crows have gotten them?" He said, "That's the way it is. Then a hawk will swoop down and get the crow." I went back home thinking, "What are you all upset about? You eat chicken and fish, don't you?" A few days later, I spoke to a birder at the Plainsboro Nature Preserve. When I told her my fears for the little wrens, she consoled me. "Don't worry. They made it." I hope so. In any event, there is now available in Princeton: 1 RM WITH A VU.



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Last revision: Friday, October 29, 2004 - 08:10:10 PM