Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Nature is Not Always Kind
June 23, 2012
By Steve Grinley

     When I saw this story from Doug Chickering about the house wrens that nest in their yard, I thought it an interesting coincidence. Last week I lost a close friend, Jennifer Delaney of Amesbury, after her valiant fight of living with Cystic Fibrosis. Some of her friends referred to her as “Jenny Wren.”

     Not only was Jen always lively and upbeat (like a wren), and a great jokester, she also had a great love for the birds in her yard. She fed them faithfully, and often would call to tell me what she had been seeing in her at her feeders or at one of the water features that her husband Michael made for her.

     Jen also did some amateur photography, taking pictures and video of the birds. She even made up notecards with her photos to sell for benefit of the CF Foundation. She made a CD of a nesting white-breasted nuthatch in her yard and set it to music. She gave me and other friends a copy. It captured much of the nuthatches nesting behavior that she observed as they nested in the bird house outside her window.

     In the past few years, Jen took up painting. She painted birds, landscapes and people. I bought one of her paintings of a flying great blue heron at the Burrows Wildlife Sanctuary just over the border in New Hampshire. She enjoyed visiting the heron rookery there and captured it beautifully on canvas.

     Sometimes the nature that we love so much is not always kind to ones who love it. Doug Chickering further describes that paradox:

     “Lois Cooper and I have three bird houses in her yard. One never gets used. Apparently the trees have grown so that they make it less than ideal for nest box denizens. The other two do get used every year, and for the last two years, with unfortunate results. For the last five years we have had a House Wren coming into our yard in early May as if on schedule and setting up shop in one of the two houses. He takes over the yard in the typical Wren fashion, perching here and there, flying purposefully to and fro and warding off rivals by his distinctive song. Then his mate arrives; they build a nest and before May is out they are bringing in food and taking away fecal sacs. It is an event that Lois and I look forward to and enjoy tremendously.

     “Last year they chose, for the nest, the larger box mounted on a pole on the fence. It is one of those boxes that can be cleaned out by unlatching the front panel which swings down. They busily went about their business. Near the time we felt the young would be fledgling, I awoke one morning to find the front panel pulled open. Immediately I realized that something bad had happened and when I went out to investigate it was obvious that some animal had gotten the latch open, pulled down the panel and pulled out all that was inside; including, presumably the nestlings. I was saddened and furious. I was also determined that it wouldn’t happen again. As this spring started I secured the panel with a wood screw so that the only creature that could possibly open it would have been a bear.

     “This spring the pair of house Wrens returned as expected. At first they started building a nest in the large box; now secured with the wood screw, but eventually decided on the smaller box that hung on the Lilac bush. This one seemed more secure for there was no door or moving panel. In order to clean it out you have to actually unscrew the front panel. Perhaps they didn’t trust the larger box anymore. I didn’t know, and I didn’t care. Our little pals were there and building a nest and that was all that was important.

     “Yesterday morning as I sat at the breakfast table, checking out the feeders and birds in the back yard my heart sank a bit when I couldn’t see the nest box in the lilac bush. The lower branches of the red bud tree had grown so that the box had already become a little obscured, but I could always find it. This morning: nothing.

     “Quickly I got my slippers on and walked out into the back yard. When I got to the lilac bush I could see the line that the box hung by had been pulled back onto the branch. I looked into the boxes hole and where once I had been able to see sticks I saw nothing. Then to my deep disappointment I spotted a dead nestling lying on the ground. During the night some creature had gotten up onto the lilac and apparently pulled the box back, and reached inside. It had happened again; I felt like weeping.

     “Although I don’t really know what the culprit was, my suspicions are that it was a Raccoon; on both occasions. They’re devilishly clever and have the dexterity to pull it off. I don’t if anything similar has happened to others or if they have other suspects than a Raccoon. Two years in a row is almost too much to bear.

     “It is, however, noteworthy that Lois and I seemed to be a lot more upset and discouraged than the Wren. He’s still around; checking back into the other box, hitting all his stations and singing away as if nothing had happened. Nature is cruel; but only to our eyes.”

     Though Jen has been taken from us, her spirit is also still singing in the hearts of all who knew her.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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