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Our History in Birds continued...
Another family grew up just last spring. They were cardinals who nested in the climbing rose that leans against the picture window to the left of the fireplace in the livingroom. The nest was invisible from the yard, but it was smack up against the window. You could inspect it from a distance of 18 inches.
Mrs. Cardinal seemed quite proud. Her nest was sheltered by thorny canes on one side and a mass of fragrant, ivory-colored roses on the other. Plus, she had a big-screen TV. Too bad she got only the same old reruns every night of the two old humans and their old dog in the livingroom.
She laid four eggs. Then she left. We were frantic. How could she desert her eggs? No sign of him, either. Maybe he was a cad. Two days went by, and I thought the eggs were dead. Maybe I just missed her. But there were long absences. Then she reappeared and began sitting on the eggs enough of the time.
Well, they hatched and grew amazingly. One day they were little wet twitches, floundering helplessly in the nest. The next day they had beaks and big frog eyes, sealed shut. They were still pitiful and helpless. Both parents patiently funneled food down their throats, and I saw the mother spread her wings and skirts and settle down on them at night.
Then magically overnight they had tails and even twiggy little wings, then wet feather-quills. Then suddenly, and now it had been hardly a week, one day I came home and a little bird gave me a very sharp look through the window. Then they were gone. Wow.
Our winters used to be colder. Nowadays, we have fewer freezes and shorter spells of really wintry weather. Our large dove used to be the mourning dove, but these were replaced years ago by the white-winged dove, which is more the bird of south Texas. I call this a change in climate causing a change in the range of a bird, but I don't know if any ornithologist has established the fact.
We have found a couple of distressed baby birds over the years. One was a baby white-winged dove that Craig named Needle-face because of his beak. Doves do seem to be quite dim. Needle-face recovered from what seemed to be a wing injury, but then when we let him sit out on the back porch to try and regain his strength, he disappeared.
I noticed a snake on the back porch and taking careful note of his marking, looked him up in the snake book. He was a rat snake. The book said this was the snake that would show up on suburban back porches when people left their bird cages out to give the birds fresh air. Oops.
We have the best fireplace in the world. It lights easily and burns down to fine ash with very little tending. We have a big brick chimney. Every year, in the early spring, a scout arrives from the chimney swift clan and checks to make sure our chimney is still available.
It is, of course, but sometimes we will have forgotten to close the flue for the summer, and he will flop out into the livingroom covered with a fine dusting of white ash. He does not seem to be too frightened when Craig catches him and releases him out the door.
Then the family arrives. The extended family. We have counted dozens of chimney swifts diving into our chimney in the evening in the summer. First we hear tiny cheeps as the babies hatch, then it becomes a considerable chorus rising each time an adult arrives with food. Maybe it's our imagination, but I think they like to sing along with opera.
Chimney swifts build the tiniest nests imaginable, seeming to perch on the barest ledges. They do not cause any worrisome clutter in the chimney and on the contrary over the years they will keep your chimney clear and clean. They eat three times their body weight in bugs like mosquitos every day. They wheel in the late afternoon summer sky, chittering to each other.
But guess what. Almost everyone has a screen on their chimney to prevent the chimney swifts from nesting. It is tragic. We have walked throughout our neighborhood for miles looking for another chimney that is open to the birds. We've seen maybe one or two.
We use our fireplace from October to March, always have. Once in these twenty years we paid a chimney sweep to clean it. He gave us this report:
"Totally clean. You didn't need this service. This is because you have chimney swifts."
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