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Nature’s Best By Elma Chapman - Boundaries

It’s no secret that I like birds and invite them into my yard. They are welcome to all the bird seed, hummingbird nectar, and grape jelly I put out, as well as any insects they may find. They are free to build nests in any of my birdhouses, trees, shrubs, etc.

But the front porch is MINE, or so I thought. Some birds just don’t respect boundaries! I always put out two hanging flower baskets with my hummingbird feeder between them on the front porch. If I sit quietly on the glider, the hummingbirds don’t mind and will fly right up to the feeder even though I am only three feet away. The two hanging baskets I bought this year claim to attract hummingbirds, but to be honest I haven’t seen the hummingbirds the least bit interested in those flowers.

Over the years, I have done battle with mourning doves and house finches that were pretty determined to build a nest in one or both of my hanging baskets. I removed partially built nests, and they were restarted within a day. I tried playing owl calls to frighten away the doves, but they scoffed at my recorded owls.

This year it was robins. I removed partial nests, but back they came, so I put objects in the nest so they couldn’t settle in. When we left on vacation and I had to take my baskets to a neighbor to water for me, I took the objects out since they looked kind of silly. When we got back, I assumed nesting was nearly finished and it was safe to let my guard down. Wrong choice.

I have to admit this robin is no amateur. Her nest is very well constructed, unlike the extremely sloppy robin’s nest in our Rose of Sharon tree last year. When I went to water the basket, I found a blue egg.

At this point, it was my turn to respect boundaries. Removing an active songbird nest is against the law. By “active” the law means the nest contains eggs or nestlings. So despite a few protests from mom robin, I carefully watered around the edges of the basket, keeping the nest high and dry. After all, the law doesn’t say I have to sacrifice my flowers!

The next day, there were two eggs in the nest. And then there were three. Mom and I entered into a kind of détente: she would fly to the nearest tree branch and chirp warningly at me, and I limited my visits to necessary watering. Then one day walking back from the mailbox I found a broken eggshell. I have read that parent birds often remove the shells when the young hatch, and carry them some distance from the nest so they don’t attract predators. That day mom didn’t get off the nest until I was about two feet from her, and yes, there was one nestling and two eggs. And a day or so later there were two little naked robins and one egg. Thinking there must be a story in this, I recruited my husband to hold the basket while I took a picture. The plant needed water again, so out we went, camera in hand. And this time there were two and a half nestlings – one was just pecking his or her way out of the shell.

We got the picture, watered the plant and left, and mom came back and settled back in to tend to her young. Or maybe it was dad – with robins it’s hard to tell.

I’m not really thrilled to have to abandon my front porch for the next couple of weeks, but I can deal with it. I guess that’s the price you pay when your porch becomes a robin neo-natal unit! But the upside is that now from my living room window I can get a lesson in child care, robin-style.