These days, I live sandwiched between two nests: phoebes in the front, bluebirds in the back. Sometimes, when I\’m watching the bluebirds out the back window, if the light is just right the front window is reflected in the back window, and I can see the phoebes silhouetted against the bluebirds as both pairs flit to and from their nests.
It\’s not easy, living with all this bird procreation. The phoebes seem particularly accident prone. Every year they build their nest in a protected spot on the porch, where as far as I can see no wind or rain can reach it. Yet almost every year there are mishaps. Often, the nest falls down in mid-construction. Last year, a couple of feathered nestlings fell out. One was dead when I found it, but its sibling was very much alive, and upset. It was a terribly hot day, so I put it under a hosta leaf and placed a dish of water nearby for the parents, who were hovering. The entire family disappeared the next day, and I like to think that that baby survived.
This year\’s brood was not so lucky. Yesterday I found the nest–carefully made of moss, dried grass, and hairs from Lexi\’s white undercoat–on the slate floor of the porch. Its three occupants were scattered around it, dead. Aside from the disproportionately large yellow beaks (put that worm right here, Mom!) they were a mass of gray fuzz. Their lids were closed over their bulbous eyes, and their thread-thin necks were bent at odd angles. I got the broom and swept babies and nest into the mulch. Earth to earth…
As the sun went down the parent phoebes kept flying into the porch, then out again, until dark.
So far, the bluebirds are o.k. Yesterday I saw both parents flying into the nest box with big beakfuls of bugs, which meant the eggs had hatched. I dragged a lawn chair to the nest, stood on it and shone a flashlight in. All I could see was an amorphous grayish mass, but it was moving, alive! I couldn\’t tell how many babies there were, so I withdrew respectfully, wondering how the parents managed to stuff those full-sized butterflies down those tiny throats.
The most dangerous part of those babies\’ life is still ahead. I\’m not sure I\’ll be able to watch the leaving-the-nest drama. We don\’t have cats around, but all manner of threats lurk in the woods, the thickets of apple mint, the sky, the pond. The bluebirds have hatched, but I\’d better wait to count them.