A Bird’s Tale of Survival
A small brown wren hopped under the screen door and onto my summer porch. Not unusual for living in the country. Once they bang around a bit against the screens they either find their way out the way they came in or I wave my arms and block their retreat until they fly out the open door to freedom. This particular little bird arrived one day, spied an unused garden basket and decided that this was the safest place to build her nest. The basket is perched atop a tall cabinet wedged into a corner almost flush with the sliding door that shepherds my guests, my pups, and me in and out of the house. And still the little wren took a chance that this would be safer than risking exposure to the predators that awaited her eggs outside.
For the most part she was right, because not one person lifted the basket down to discover an intricately designed, woven reed like cave, perfect for incubating her eggs. To build her nest the little brown wren would hop under the 2-inch gap between door and floor, onto the bench and then with a flutter of wings and a huge leap up to the top of the cabinet and into the basket. How long it took her to do this none of us knew, but one day with a house full of guests and a garden full of herbs and vegetables, the basket was lifted down from the top of the cabinet and a shriek of surprise brought us all running to the porch. Eyes big with wonder and mouths shaped to the sound of “Ohhhhhhh,” we gazed upon a perfect nest and 5 perfect brown speckled eggs.
Immediately a heated discussion broke out as to whether we should even breathe upon the eggs, much less touch the basket lest the little wren not return to finish her mothering. It was all agreed that the basket should stay on the cabinet with occasional peaks to feed our sense of wonder and joy in being present to such an intimate act of nature. Personally I was flattered that she would pick my porch to build her nest trusting that her nest would be left undisturbed. Later, I suspected that she instinctively knew my human mind was not always seeing what was right in front of my eyes and so she was protected.
Now that I knew there were eggs to be hatched on my porch I became vigilant and paid more attention to the little wren’s comings and goings. One evening sitting on the porch with my pups, Maya and Seamus, enjoying the evening breeze, I suddenly detected the soft, delicate sound of baby birds chirping into life. Just as suddenly the little wren appeared under the door dangling a tasty morsel of something raw and earth scented in her beak. She hesitated as she took in our presence and the sound of her babies crying in hunger and hopped back under the door to await our departure. So up we got and removed ourselves from the porch, sliding the door closed and watched from behind the glass as she came and went dozens of time bringing food for her brood. And that’s how it went for 5 days.
Dining one evening with guests I told them about the little baby wrens and even showed a few pictures I had managed to capture when mother wren was out tugging up worms from the garden. After a few moments of delighted discussion one woman became upset as to whether the young wrens would know to hop out under the porch door. Good God, I hadn’t thought of that, and in the moment of distraught silence that followed we all turned to look out the door just as the little brown wren flew across the porch to her babies in the nest. Not sure what else to do I promised that I would see that each chick made it out into the wild and come to no harm. Inwardly I just hoped I could keep Maya and Seamus from getting to them first, and trusted that the little brown wren intuited what she was doing when she placed her babes in my care.
It was the very next day when hearing a commotion on the porch I found it alive with five tiny, brown wrens attempting to fly from screen to screen and holding on for dear life. In the same exact moment I glimpsed mother wren chasing a squirrel across the yard and as far away from the porch as she could drive him. Ah, so there was the predator she was afraid would steal her chicks, and if my eyes did not deceive me she was able to land a few good pecks on his greedy little head. So while the little wren kept the dastardly squirrel in flight I took in the situation on the porch.
It was as if I had walked into a room size birdcage and my pups had walked into their dream hunting grounds. Into the house went the pups, door securely shut and the porch door opened so the chicks could fly away. Except they weren’t really getting the “open door to freedom” idea and after leaving them to it for a good 30 minutes I could see there were two chicks hiding somewhere under the porch furniture, tired, confused and frightened. With mom nowhere in sight I suddenly understood my role in this drama. Coaxing the two out from under the furniture they flew to the screens and one by one I lifted them so very gently, (oh, how light and fragile they were) and carried each out onto the deck and placed them on the branch of a large flowering bush. There they were protected from the squirrels and I could keep an eye out for any other predators until the mother wren came looking for them. Then I went inside and listened as the little brown wren called from the tree above. Her babies fluttered their new wings and off they flew to begin their life.
The summer porch felt empty after they all left and for days afterwards I would listen for the sound of baby birds or look for them to return to their nest, but they never did come. One early morning, five days later, walking Maya and Seamus along our country road, I noticed a small brown wren hopping along in front of the pups chirping and looking back at us. As soon as we would get closer the wren would fly forward, land, hop a bit, look back at us and chirp. This went on for a few minutes until I recognized that it was one of the little brown wrens that had hatched on my porch. In the moment of that understanding the little wren lifted itself onto a branch near my head and chirped in our direction, then flew away. It was a rare and gifted moment when that which is wild and untamed came from the sacred to touch my heart in thanks. I will leave the nest in the basket on top the cabinet in case she needs a place to hide her eggs come next summer.