I've been doing some serious bird watching over the past month and the focus has been directly outside my bedroom window. What I'm discovering is that humans and birds are not so different when it comes to sense of community and the places we call home. We all become comfortable with our sense of security; knowing we have a safe place to sleep, raise our babies and find protection from the elements. We live in neighborhoods and often know who lives in which house- so do the birds. I've learned they even have a Neighborhood Watch Program. We structure and plan our lives to be just so and become attached to what we think we know to be true. And in a single day, we might watch, as what we had, shatters into tiny pieces.. What if like the birds, we could become friends with uncertainty and the unknown, and follow the natural rhythms of nature, finding a sense of safety and peace in what we have yet to discover?
When I bought my cottage three years ago, there was a little bonus "bird cottage" just below my bedroom window. One day I caught sight of a striking red-headed woodpecker who spent most of his days tapping away at the oak tree, just above the creek, in the meadow. The bird's home base was the little nesting box on my house. Two months later the woodpecker disappeared and my new tenants arrived, two fat starlings. They settled in and before too long, their first clutch of babies was born. For the past three years, I've been awakened in the early morning hours to the hungry chirping of baby birds being fed by both mama and daddy. The starlings raised at least two clutches of babies each year, over the past three years..
In late January, when we had unseasonably warm weather, I was startled to hear the sounds of new babies being fed one early morning. My immediate response was, "Oh no! it's too early. The babies won't make it". The next day, a wild rain and wind storm rattled Ashland. Trees were down all over the city; creeks jumped their banks- including the one flowing through my meadow. I checked out my window each day and there was no sign of mama, daddy or baby birds- gone! I wasn't sure if the parents evacuated their babies or just fled the storm and left them there to die. There wasn't a peep from the bird house and I saw no sign of the starlings after the storm.. They had fled to safety.
One month ago, I awakened early to cacophony and loud squawking next to my bedroom window. Two stellar jays, two crows, a couple of scrub jays and some junkos were anxiously hopping and flitting from branch to branch in the old oak tree next to the house. The jays were flying like dive bombers towards my window and making a point of hitting the bird house. It was quite a scene that I couldn't figure out. What I did understand though, was that the birds were involved in a unified effort. They were on a mission.
Later that day, returning from a hike, I was walking past the meadow and saw a reddish-brown screech owl, planted inside the bird house with her head popping out. She was asleep in the warm afternoon sun. I immediately understood the ruckus of the morning; the meadow birds were collaborating to chase out a predator. The owl was potentially a threat not only to mice and ground critters, but to the birds and their babies as well.
The following morning was a repeat of the previous one, but this time more birds were squawking, flitting about and diving at the bird house. After a few hours, it ended and the birds went back to their routines. The next day, the starling pair arrived. I hadn't seen them since the big storm in January. My sense was that the other birds relayed information to the starlings that they had better come and take care of the owl before the owl takes care of somebody's babies. The starlings have been here every morning for the past month, alternating sitting on the roof of the nesting box and sitting in the oak tree singing beautiful songs. One sits on top of the nesting box and gingerly pokes it's head down towards the small hole that serves as the entrance to the bird house. Next, it flies to the front of the house, holds on to the little entry hole and carefully peeks inside, just enough to see, but to not get its head bitten off
Since I hadn't seen the owl since the first siting, I was curious as to if she was still occupying the house. I thought perhaps the starlings had repossessed the house. Then, the weather turned quite warm this week. I was sleeping with my window open two nights ago and was awakened to the sounds of, "whoo, whoo, whoo". I quietly went to the window to peek and just as I placed my nose on the screen, the dark figure of the owl popped out of the house and swooped down to the creek. Once the owl had swooped. I continued to hear the little sounds of, "whoo, whoo, whoo" coming from the nest box...babies- screech owl babies.