Possumhaw: Beauty and the Birds

Shannon Bardwell

“Some birds are not meant to be caged, that’s all. Their feathers are too bright, their songs too sweet, and wild.”

—Stephen King, American author

“I must say that I have rarely seen a community come together in order to meet a common need in a manner as beautiful as that of a handful of birds at a feeder.”

— Craig D. Lounsbrough, American author

It seems a little late for all the bird nesting going on here in the Prairie. For weeks we watched the red-shouldered hawk sixteen an abandoned crow’s nest high in the crook of a tree. We learned her call and heard her often. Sitting on the front porch using binoculars we could see her head bobbing around in the nest. A few days later she started flying in and out repeatedly. Little heads bobbed behind her. She had a distinct call sounding more like a scream than a call. They are one of the noisiest raptors around and can be heard for miles. It sounds like “kee-yer” long, loud, and drawn out. It could be annoying, but watching her and her brood from a point of nature was enjoyable. In time she left and we saw no movement in the lofty nest. Some days later I heard her call coming from the north woods.

On the back porch we are hosting a small family of Carolina wrens. Wrens are known to build their nests in mailboxes, old boots, baskets, flower pots, grills and even the top of a propane tank. These little wrens thing a hanging basket of geraniums just outside the breakfast nook. They use a variety of materials for the nest-leaves, hay, grasses, bark, moss, cat hair, sisal from doormats. Wrens can be human friendly. It’s easy to get within a few feet of the parents. Mostly they are too busy singing and feeding to pay attention to anything else. In the mornings they are particularly melodious with their songs. The wren swoops in and out of the nest with bugs for the little ones. I’ve wondered exactly how she does that. Do they share? Does she drop one bug in each little hungry mouth? I can’t get close enough to see how she feeds. She does it so often I’d think it must be one bug, one mouth. Purple martins are known for being avid bug catchers, but I can’t imagine them being any better than our little Carolina wrens.

Two years ago, I asked Sam to move the bluebird boxes from a post to the side wall of the garage. The cats would climb the post and park themselves on top of the birdhouse. Nowadays the bluebirds safely occupy both birdhouses. The male is brilliant blue and the female is like him but quieter in color. Bluebirds like the wren consume a large number of bugs. We spend some mornings on the front porch drinking coffee and watching the bluebirds fly in and out of the bluebird boxes. When sunlight reflects on the male bird’s plumage his blueness is brilliant.

Bird numbers are down at the bird feeders however, there’s a nice sampling of a variety of birds: cardinals, doves, indigo buntings, a single prothonotary warbler, and cowbirds. It’s good to keep in mind one cannot get too attached to the lovelies. I stepped outside only to discover our little wren family had departed.

Shannon Bardwell is a writer living quietly in the Prairie. Email reaches her at [email protected]

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