Summer spent battling birds puts columnist in a fowl mood
I’m less a bird lover than a bird appreciator.
I like them, more or less, but have never felt the urge to learn much about them. Therefore, when a bird mystery pops up, I simply have no knowledge base to draw on for answers.
Like, did I kill the swallows at the lake? They set up their nest atop an electrical box on the overhang above the deck. A highrisk lifestyle, but they survived electrocution. But when a human came up for the weekend, the birds couldn’t come and go as they pleased. They’d fly toward their nest, then change their minds at the last second and veer off. Well, that was their problem.
My task was to stain the deck. I bought what might well be the last gallon of oil-based stain in Western Canada. It was discontinued and on sale. Naturally, I worried about the birds pooping on my deck, but they surprisingly hadn’t done so all summer to that point.
I stained the deck. The fumes were bad. Not eye-wateringly bad, but pretty bad. Overnight, the swallows pooped on the deck, likely in protest. I put a piece of plywood at ground zero and went home.
The next time I went to the lake, the piece of plywood was as clean as when I put it there. Odd. Then I noticed the swallows were gone. The fumes? I felt terrible. I probably ruined their lives. They were homeless now, pushing swallow-sized shopping carts through unsavoury neighbourhoods of the forest. And what if they’d abandoned their eggs? I was a monster.
Then the next bird mystery: The Silence of the Sparrows. We always have a healthy population of sparrows in our backyard. This is because we have three small birdhouses on the side of the garage. The birds had a great summer producing offspring.
One day, there was a sparrow-palooza. A large group started swirling around the houses. I fought the urge to think “how cute, they’re playing!” I figure sparrows are pretty much all business. This was more like a sparrow war. One would latch onto the perch. Another would whiz by and try to hover. If it got too close, it would be chased. With all the chirping and wing flapping, it was very dramatic. In a sparrow way.
Sparrow chicks amuse me and gross me out in equal measure. They truly never shut up, forcing their parents to make quick trips for food every few seconds. Always reminds me of having twins. I used my binoculars to check them out, but I couldn’t see much besides the orangey, demanding beaks. Do they have any feathers when they’re born? I allow myself to think they’re covered in skin, like miniature dinosaurs. Kind of creeps me out.
The abundance of chicks prevented me from painting the side of the garage for two months. I didn’t want to be attacked or intrude on their life cycle. I decided to wait until the chaos died down.
Then, suddenly, it did. One day, just like that, there were no sparrows at all. Time to paint! But I felt bad. Do sparrows pack up and leave just like that? What of the chicks? Had the worst happened? I shuddered to think of it — some steely-eyed bird of prey swooping in. And then what? Eating the parents and letting the babies starve to death in the house? God, didn’t Edgar Allan Poe write stories like that? Or maybe it got the kids first, extracting them from the hole in the house. It made me think of eating french fries with no hands.
Without chicks to raise, did the distraught parents fly away into an uncertain future? Or are they — and the lake swallows — fine? I’ll never know. It’s so distressing, I might never get around to painting the side of the garage, heh, heh.