Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: In and Out (04/30/09)
TITLE: Of Birdhouses and Daughters
By Steve Fitschen
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A stampede of daughters arrived ahead of my wife. “What is it Dad?”
“Look,” I pointed out the French doors toward the birdhouse in our backyard. “Do you see that chickadee going in and out, in and out, in and out of the birdhouse?”
“Yeah, Dad,” a chorus answered.
“There must be baby birds in there. She keeps carrying food into the house.”
“Can we go look, Dad? Please?” asked eight-year-old Sarah.
“Sure, but we have to be real quiet.”
I lifted six-year-old Jamie to look first; then Sarah. Twelve-year-old Kerri stood on tip toes to peak in. Then my wife, Joan, and I took our turns.
We saw six baby chickadees. We couldn’t believe how tiny they were. “Well, think about how small the mama is,” Kerri said, with an air of wisdom. They had bulging, unopened eyes; yellow-rimmed beaks, opened for food, of course; and thin, wispy down that couldn’t conceal their wrinkly, pink skin.
For the next three days, the girls checked on the birds regularly and kept us up to date with numerous reports. But soon the novelty wore off.
On day four, I had to check for myself. I was shocked to discover the nest had been destroyed! I reported the bad news to Joan and the girls.
“No!” screamed the chorus as they all tore out of the house to the birdhouse. After everyone satisfied themselves that the bad news was true, Kerri shouted, “Look!”
She had spotted part of the nest about eight feet away from the birdhouse. Further searching revealed more of the nest scattered around the backyard. But we never saw any sign of the baby birds.
“Who would do this, Dad?” asked Jamie, through tears.
“I don’t know, baby. I don’t even know who—or what—could do it. The hole is so small.
“Oh, Tim, you don’t think it was a snake?” shuddered Joan. The girls all huddled around my legs, except Kerri, who started to, but caught herself.
“I guess it could have been. Or maybe a squirrel that reached its little arm in there,” I said doubtfully. “Or maybe some other little bird that would fit in there. But I’ve never heard of squirrels or other little birds eating chickadees.”
After a while, we headed dejectedly back into the house. Not long after that, Kerri called for us to come into the den. She sat at the computer. “Look what I found! Wrens will attack and destroy chickadee nests and even kill the babies!” We crowded around and looked over her shoulder. Sure enough, she had discovered our culprit.
The next day after work, I instinctively looked out at the birdhouse. I couldn’t believe it! A wren was flying in and out, in and out, in and out of the house.
“Joan, girls! Come quick!”
Joan and the stampede arrived just as the wren took off. Soon it returned with a twig. As we watched it come and go, hoping in and out of the birdhouse, Sarah pouted, “I don’t like that bird. It’s mean! Why did it have to kill the baby chickadees?”
Joan and I exchanged glances that asked, “What is the right answer?” Before I could reply, Sarah blurted out, “I’m going to hate its babies!”
“Me too!” Jamie chimed in, stomping her foot.
But even Jamie and Sarah couldn’t stay away from the French doors for the next few days. Kerri the Googler told us what to expect: 3-7 days to build the nest; 5-8 eggs, laid one per day; 12-13 days of incubation, with the mother often leaving the eggs unattended.
After a few days of watching the nest-building, the girls grew bored. But when I told them I had spotted an egg, they bolted out the door. Each day we found a new egg until there were seven.
The incubation stage didn’t hold the girls’ attention, but the day the babies hatched, the French doors never stayed shut. And now the wren, like the chickadee before her, was in and out, in and out, in and out of the birdhouse.
The girls checked on the babies most days until they grew into fledglings and left the nest. The girls were sad, especially Jamie—but just momentarily. They were on to other things.
Joan and I stood by the birdhouse. “Thoughts seem to flit in and out of their minds so quickly,” Joan sighed.
“At least they forgot to hate the baby wrens,” I said.
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