Markie's Musings

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Drama in a suburban back yard

Spring cleaning, suburban style, involves more than vacuum cleaning and scrubbing. There are leaves to rake, lawns to mow, and fallen branches to pick up. Our yard is lined with a group of hedges from hell, privet which has achieved unmanageable heights of 20-30 feet, and creates a perpetual cycle of droppings including leaves, blossoms, and little berries the size of BB shot. These berries attract swarms of robins when they ripen, which are then excreted in purple splats around the yard and on our parked cars. The berries which are not consumed end up sprouting all over the lawn, adding to the endless dandelions and spurge which need to be plucked.

It was while trimming back the privet that I almost committed an act of ecological terror, which I was able to avert through quick thinking and delicate handling. I had clipped a number of branches which were overhanging our yard and the neighbors, and was following up by cutting the clippings down to manageable lengths so they could be removed by the recycling trucks later in the week. I was about to pick up one particular branch when I noticed an odd shape in one of the crotches. It was almost spherical in shape, grayish brown, about 2 1/2 inches in diameter, and something was moving in it! I got closer and realized it was a nest, and the movement was a baby hummingbird. It was tiny, slowly opening and closing its beak, emitting the tiniest of squeaks. I remembered noticing the mature bird while I was clipping, thinking it was searching for blossoms. Now I had to return the nest to its proper place, to allow the hatchling time to mature. I carefully lifted the branch while climbing the ladder. I was able to secure the branch back in the tree, and positioned it with additional cover to allow concealment from predatory cats. Then a thought came to me, suppose there was more then one chick? I very carefully stepped down from the ladder, and carefully inspected the lawn where the branches had been. And there I found another small bundle of feathers. This one was even stronger than the other, eyes almost open and struggling to find shelter. I very carefully picked it out of the grass, and cradling it in the palm of my glove, returned to the ladder and attempted to place it back in the nest. I knew I could not touch it with my bare hands, as that might prevent the parent birds from recognizing their own young. This was not as easy as it would appear, since the nest was barely large enough for the chick already in it. And the one in my glove clung to the weave of the palm, so I could not just tip it into the nest. It took some very delicate maneuvering and manipulation but I was finally successful, and both chicks were secure. We removed the ladder and remaining debris from the area, and later observed the return of the parent bird to the nest. We were able to rest, assured that two tiny lives had been saved from a cruel and early demise.

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