I’m in the yard with the dogs, moving a sprinkler and shoveling dog shit over the fence into the field, typical evening chores. Suddenly both boys rush toward the fence at the edge of the yard near the front door, noses to the ground, pouncing. Conall pulls back with that look on his face I’ve come to know too well, the one that says, “I got it!” I can’t see anything in his mouth, but just in case, say, “Drop it.”
Conall lowers his head slowly toward the ground, then gently opens his mouth. Out falls a small fluffy ball of now-damp feathers: a baby bird, tiny and brown and very much alive. I grab Finn’s collar so he can’t get it, tell Conall to leave it and shoo both dogs around the side of the house and inside, blocking their dog door so they can’t get out until the bird is safe.
I grab my phone, hoping the bird will still be there when I return. It is, although by that time it has managed to hop or fly through the wire of the fence gate onto the safe, non-dog side, about three feet away. It’s perched on a rusty old wire planter basket sitting on the dirt in a planting strip near the front door, watching me.
I take a couple photos from the opposite side of the fence, surprised that the bird keeps staring at me, making no attempt to move away. I hear some loud, persistent chirping nearby, the sound of an upset bird. Following the sound, I see a bird perched on the house roof, watching me while sounding its alarm. Seeing how similar both birds appear, I guess the bird on the roof is mama and the bird on a wire (sorry, can’t resist) is a fledgling.
I carefully open the fence gate so that I can get closer to both birds. The fledgling remains perched on the planter, watching me, big dark eyes following my every move. I cautiously crouch close to get a close-up photo, hoping it might help me identify what type of bird it is. The fledgling doesn’t budge or show any sign of distress, just wary curiosity. Or, maybe utter stillness is its instinctive defense when in danger and unable to fly.
Peering closely, I notice that some of the feathers on fledgling’s head are standing straight up, a result of its close encounter with Conall’s mouth. Baby bird, sporting a mohawk.
Mama bird is not still, like her fledgling. She’s flying from roof to the tops of nearby lupine flowers, back to the roof, keeping an eye on her fledgling and on me, talking the whole time. I watch her land on a small metal pipe protruding from the side of the house. That seems odd, so I move closer. Mama flies off, but a tiny brown-feathered head pokes briefly out of a half-dollar-sized hole in the siding near the pipe and a small metal box.
Aha. The nest. Fledgling hadn’t made it far before his luck turned bad.
When my house was built, I had a propane-powered generator attached in this spot. I quickly decided the generator was overkill and sold it. The pipe and metal box were installed for the generator, as was the hole to the right. Years earlier I noticed bees flying in and out of the hole so I covered it with duct tape. Apparently over the past winter the tape had come off and these birds saw the perfect place to build a nest and raise a brood. The interior side of this wall is my garage, so I never heard them.
Pictures obtained, mystery of where the bird came from solved, I retreat, hoping fledgling figures out how to return to the nest for the night without any additional mishaps.
The next day I’m out in the yard again, in the fenced area on the other side of the house. Bird movement catches my eye. I notice two tiny brown birds flitting about the corner of the fence where some old wood tomato plant support boxes have been stacked for several years. Sometimes the birds land on the wire below the top horizontal post, other times on the post. One takes off and quickly lands, the second following close behind. Then I hear the same loud bird chatter as yesterday. Ah – more fledglings! Looking up, I see mama on the roof again, noisily monitoring. I pull my phone from my pocket and take some photos. Later, editing them on my computer, zooming in, I see that one of the two birds flying near the fence has feathers sticking straight up from the top of its head.
Conall’s fledgling, out practicing his flying skills again.
He has improved significantly in just a day.
Last summer and this, I have seen these same tiny brown birds hanging about both sides of the house. They’re noisy, fast, and agile, delightful to watch, although their flying skills don’t quite match the fast and daring aerobatics of the tree swallows who delight in strafing me and the boys as we sit in the yard near sunset. They all seem to co-exist – these tiny brown birds and the swallows, robins, magpies, kestrels and red-tailed hawks that are common around the house. This year, some of the tiny brown ones have built a nest in the tomato boxes – maybe that fledgling or its siblings? – and I saw little heads poking out of the hole in the siding. I don’t have the heart to cover that hole over, now that it has become an established nest.
What type of bird are they? I’m thinking brown creeper or house wren – the upturned tail leans toward house wren – but I’m no bird expert. Whatever they are, I like having them around. In future, though, I hope they undertake their early flight lessons away from the dog’s yard.