Caution - New life ahead

Friday, April 9, 2004

The decorative wreaths my wife put on both the front door and back door of our house have become prime real estate for the local bird population.

Over the years, I've recounted the various efforts by out feathered friends to make homes and have families. Some have been more successful than others.

Our pride and joy was the year a pair of cardinals built a nest in the wreath on the back door -- the door we use all the time. Mama cardinal would fly away only when we touched the door handle. I would put her on my team in any staring-down contest. Two cardinal eggs hatched that year, and the newborns put up with us until they could fly.

For several years, purple finches have built nests -- many of them -- in the ivy growing around the living -room windows. The books we consulted said finches ordinarily build nests in evergreens. Perhaps they were fooled by the green ivy. At any rate, they were the sloppiest and most careless nest builders I've ever seen. The nests kept falling down, and the finches would start picking up the pieces and trying again. I gave them high marks for perseverance.

This year we have a nest in the front-door wreath too. It is a jewel. It is made mostly of evergreen twigs carefully latticed into an intricate and substantial home. It's bright greenness is a real eye-catcher. But it took us a while to figure out who the builders were, since any movement near the door, inside or out, shooed the occupants away.

Early this week eggs appeared in the front-door nest, so I took our binoculars and went into the neighbor's yard across the street to see what was going on. Guess what. The tidy green nest is the home of a very smug purple finch. So much for the ivy league.

But that's not all the surprises we've enjoyed this spring.

The nest builders in the back-door wreath this year started early, but the work in progress didn't look like a cardinal's handiwork. Each evening when we came home from work, my wife and I would notice a pile of building material -- twigs, feathers, fluffy stuff -- on the step by the door. While we weren't looking, the nest builders would retrieve bits and pieces. They wound up with quite a heap of nest ingredients in the wreath.

Strange, we thought. Is the wreath this year just a builder's supply warehouse? Will other birds take these carefully selected items for their own nests?

A few days later, there was a new development. It wasn't just a pile of twigs, feathers and fluffy stuff after all. It was a nest with a roof. The entrance was a side opening that led to a nesting cavity.

Back to the bird books.

Even though I've been around wrens all my life, I didn't know they are among the birds that build nests with tops.

A couple of days ago, eggs with spots of brown started appearing in the wren nest. The only time we spot Mrs. Wren is when she jumps down to the brick patio when we go out the door. She scampers into the nearby hedge.

There is something hopeful about looking at eggs in a bird's nest. The eggs have their own exquisite beauty. And the eggs are in carefully designed and constructed nests -- designed and constructed by birds with brains about the size of a green pea. How is that possible?

There are many mysteries in this world I will never figure out. But I think it's easy to see why religious celebrations of the triumph of life over death come when bird-egg jewels are placed in woven marvels surrounded by redbud and dogwood blossoms.

R. Joe Sullivan is the editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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