The grape arbor to the west of the boys’ bedrooms is housing a dove’s nest, not the first time for that either. This past winter we had a brown thrasher visit the feeder for the first time. It is a big bird, about the same size as the mockingbird who also came calling for the first time. We noticed afterward that the thrasher and its mate often flew around the carport, and finally a couple of weeks ago, Keith spotted its nest in the oak tree on the southeast corner of the carport, the mother’s tail feather the only thing visible from the ground. And then we found the mockingbird’s nest in the water oak where we back out of the carport to head down the drive—four speckled, pale blue eggs in a perilously low slung limb. Just this past weekend we finally saw the chicks—four orange mouths opened wide.
While I am certain we have had other nests in all these years, this is the first time we have known where four were and could keep tabs on them. It isn’t just curiosity. I learned years ago when the first hawks set up housekeeping in the big old pine east of the garden that you can learn a lot from watching these creatures.
The newest hawk couple plays tag-team parenting. Every morning she calls from the nest, and if I am outside I can hear him answer from a long way off. Gradually he flies in closer, the back and forth conversation continuing the whole time. Then he will land in the top of the oak, ten to fifteen feet from her. I suppose it takes her a minute to get herself up and around. She is usually hunkered down so low in the nest you can see nothing but the round top of her head and maybe her eyes, even with a pair of binoculars. Finally he flies to the nest and as soon as he lands she takes off, giving him room to set for awhile as she tends to her own business. In the evening he brings her food so she doesn’t have to leave, and then roosts for the night nearby, a sentry guarding his family.
When the first hawk chicks hatched four years ago, watching those parents in action could keep me occupied for a long time. At first the father brought the food while the mother sat keeping the little ones warm. After they had grown a bit and could be left alone for a short while, both parents were bringing food. Back and forth they flew at least half the day. It took that much to keep them fed.
As the babies grew older and larger, the mother often perched on a limb next to the nest for it was now too crowded. But once, those rowdy youngsters got to playing too wildly. I wondered if they might not be in danger of falling out of the nest. Evidently the mother thought the same thing because she jumped into the nest, spread her wings and began tapping down on the chicks’ heads, gradually calming them. Before long she hopped back out and they remained still and quiet. I could just imagine her telling them, “Now behave yourselves or you’re going to be hurt!”
Have you seen the “hurt bird” trick? Whenever we walk near the grape arbor, the mother dove leaves the nest, flying to the ground not too far away, and walks, dragging a wing. She is trying to lure what she sees as a predator away from her babies by making herself seem like an easy mark.
The mockingbird mother will fly as close as she has ever dared come to us, then land on a nearby limb any time we approach her nest. We watch her carefully to avoid being attacked as we stand on our toes to peer in. As soon as we leave she is in the nest checking on her babies.
Another time I came upon a cardinal couple in those days when I could still safely walk lap after lap around the fence line of the property. They sat on the fence just ahead of me, the male between me and the female. Ordinarily cardinals will fly at the least hint of danger. That male would not leave the fence as I closed in on him. Finally I was close enough to the female beyond him that she flew off into the wild myrtles across the fence. The minute she was safe he flew too. Chivalry may be dead in humans, but evidently not in the avian world.
I know these birds are only doing what God put into them. They are following instinct, but it seems to me that we could learn a lot from them. If God thought these attributes, the care and discipline of the young and providing for and protecting the family, were important, shouldn’t that be important to us too? Why do things like worldly success, prestigious careers, and boatloads of money and possessions seem to take all of our time and energy, while our children subsist on our leftovers, of which there is often precious little?
I have seen hawk parents teaching their children how to hunt so they can survive. I have seen human parents send their children to Bible classes with blank lesson books, or no books or Bible at all. I have seen cardinal parents feed their children one sunflower seed at a time, a slow and tedious process. I have seen human parents plop their children in front of the TV to keep them entertained for hours, heedless of what it does to their minds.
When a bird knows better than we do how to care for their young, we are in a sad state. Maybe God put these examples in front of us to teach us a thing a two. Being “bird-brained” might not be such a bad thing after all.
You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills; they give drink to every beast of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; they sing among the branches. The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted, in them the birds build their nests; the stork has her home in the fir trees. These all look to you to give them food in due season. When you give it to them they gather it up; when you open your hand they are filled with good things. When you send forth your Spirit they are created, and you renew the face of the ground. May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works, Psa 104:10-12, 16,17,27,28,30,31.