There is peace on this afternoon in June. Listen and you can hear a whisper of leaves on a breeze, a whisper of waves on the shore, and the faintest ripple of music in the trees. This music is not the bold song of springtime when birds are dueling for territory, telling the world that the world is theirs and theirs alone, and how fortunate the females who fall under the spell of their bodacious
Today, the songs are, well, not really songs, but warbled murmurings, a sweetness in the trees that barely touches us. Nor can we place any of this plain-song. It comes from all over. There are nests everywhere, but we won’t know until we see the bare limbs of winter where the householders chose to raise families.
The ripple simply spills out from the trees and envelops us, lightly, and we feel a little guilty, eavesdropping like this. For we are almost privy to behind-closed-doors-
for-family-only patter, mates signaling mates, parents coddling young, whispered warblings singular to the life of each family but part of the harmony that reaches us.
This is our lullaby as the last lazy days of June slide by.
One day it all changes. The Cardinal Kids sail on to the open porch, spitting image of Mom, but leaner, scruffier. Hey, this is a good playground. Only three or four of them, but they skitter so,
they are hard to count. From rail to chair back, from rung to bench they bounce, balancing, teetering, testing, missing. When they find a perch, they pause, edgy, alert, not quite sure why they should be alert. Ummm, now what should we be doing?
Let’s try the feeder. No, Mom said we’re not ready for that yet. I can do it. A flutter, a slip, a miss and a recovery to the safety of the crabapple tree. Told ya it was too hard for us. Hey, these are my sunflower shells! Darting, chasing round and round, they are caught up in the first serious game of staking territory.
Abruptly, the red-bellied woodpecker stops the tumble-play. He swoops on to the feeder, landing elegantly for such a large bird, squawks, Outta my way, and everyone scatters. They already understand the prerogatives of size.
The Titmice Trio bluster onto the scene, chipping, chattering, chasing, ready to beg a meal. Momentarily they perch in a large osmanthus shrub. Where’s Mom? Um, I don’t know. What can we do now? Um, I don’t know. Where should we go? Um, I don’t know.
Hm-m-m. There’s a playground over there. Let’s go. They flit from chair backs, down to chair arms, down to chair rails, so fast we can’t keep up with their antics. Kind of like watching a hockey game with three pucks. A surprise move to the table top. Oops, there are big people up there. Let’s get out of here.
Where do we go now? Um, I don’t know. Let’s try that feeder, oops, missed the perch. Here’s mom, we can get something to eat from her. For heaven’s sakes, get to the safety of that bush. She plucks some seed from the feeder and noisy begging begins. One independent soul pecks at the rail, then decides begging is better.
Mrs. Blue Jay is shrieking, flying frantically through the woods. What is it? A snake, a hawk, a roosting owl? No, she is missing her youngster. We know this because she finds him hiding underneath the foliage in a pot on the porch. Is she relieved? Of course. Does she tell him never to do that again? That he’s big enough now to answer her calls? Does he reply, But Mommy, I was scared?
Baby wrens are roosting in the fern hanging from the porch beam. Chatter chatter chatter. Buzz buzz. Stop pushing. You stop pushing. I’m getting scrunched. I don’t want to be in the middle. On it goes. Mom finally flies in to intervene. One word from her. Maybe just a look. The fern is quiet. Next day they are gone.
The hummingbird squadron jet through and around the open porch, missing us by a nose, figure eights over the roof and up to their feeder, hovering, chasing, daring a cousin, sister, brother to a game. How many? We can’t tell. Only two to a nest. How many nests are nearby? Seems like an army has arrived.
Mother hummingbirds were quiet, businesslike at the feeder earlier in spring, complaining to us only when something was not to their liking. This crew comes in like a bunch of marauders. In between dip-stick checks of spent canna blooms, bee balm, crocosmia, joe pye weed, phlox, any old blossom or bud, they chase titmice, harass a chickadee (who, actually, was not aware he was being harassed), stand up to (more accurately, hover up to) a wasp, and face down a young downy woodpecker.
This downy is already a nervous Nellie. Her scoping ritual includes dozens of peeks around a wooden post before finally flitting to the feeder. Balancing and sipping become the next challenges. Then there is the scary image of that larger-than-life bird in the bottle who seems
always to be moving. And now here come the hummingbirds in bold and glorious flight. It’s all too much. She retreats to the crabapple (to gather wits? summon courage?). We think she is gone for good, but the memory of that nectar is too sweet to surrender. She will stand her ground.
One day, playtime is over. Mom and Dad push the youngsters away when they come to feed. No more free lunch for you. We have work to do, another brood to raise. Some offspring are happy to be off, others cling. They chase after retreating parents. Their frantic, high-pitched begging cries fill the garden.
At last they are silent. They and their siblings have joined the grown-up world of birds in which a certain stealth may insure survival. They have learned how to be wary, when to recede and be silent, and they will learn when to sing. They fly with purpose, they perch with ease, they retrieve seeds with skill, and they behave themselves.
It’s noon and it’s quiet on a sultry July day. A Carolina wren sings half-heartedly, a fish crow squawks in the distance, a resident squirrel stretches out on the porch rafters. We miss the boisterous bunch. We barely recognize the birds at our feeder now. In a while, new broods will fledge, and a new show will begin.