Michel de Montaigne, translated
I've destroyed a family, or two.
For the past couple years, we've had a family of Barn Swallows living in our dock eaves. We like them. They sit on the fan above us and sing to us. We watch as their young awaken and the parents tend and protect them, teach them to soar the sky and eat the spiders and mosquitoes living around us. They keep a neat nest and have a lovely song.
On another eave, we've had a sparrow family. I've lain in my hammock and watched that mother push her young out of the nest and down the railing, letting them know their time to explore on their own has arrived. One day last year I observed an eight hour process from pushing the babies away to their actual flight. (Wish raising my own kids had been that easy.)
The Swallows and Sparrows appeared to live in relative peace until this year. The Bird Wars have begun. Apparently in this mottled sparrow mess of collected treasures, the eggs did not hatch.
Which caused the male sparrow to stake out another space and claim the entire dock as his domain. With relentless fervor, he and his female crew began nest making in various spaces, including the swallow nests. Messy nests. Eggs galore.
The swallows relocated their nest to the neighbor's dock, but the neighbors promptly removed it. These human inhabitants also spray constantly for spiders and fog their entire yard to kill any bugs. Seems rather futile to me - we are at the lake.
After a few days back in town, I returned to the cabin. From our front window I saw a flurry of activity down on the dock. With my binoculars, I watched a flustered female sparrow pick up stray nest pieces in her beak, a tad frantic as to how to get them back in place. I assumed the swallows had returned to reclaim their own home and deflect the new building. A walk on the the dock proffered indeed the discovery of broken eggs on the ground, their yellow yolks on the sun-warmed wood looking like a miniature fried egg.
Finally having an opportunity to string a couple of days together to mimic a compete slug and hibernate in my hammock, I found myself engulfed in the middle of these bird wars swarming above me. Seemed a nonstop daily cycle of rebuilding and destruction of homes. The swallows flying through the spires of the dock patrolling the area. No physical fights, just a show of unity and diligence on the part of the swallows. The sparrows - domineering and invasive, unwavering. I decided to intervene.
I had my tallest son - 6'3" climb the ladder and remove the sparrow messes from the swallow nests. And, the extra ones they had started on other rafters. We only cleaned up the nest with the unhatched eggs, as the grasses and collected pieces of feather and matter in that nest dangled like two feet of hanging trash. Following Linda at Wander to the Wayside's lead, I hoped that the nest with lifeless eggs and the loss of their new makeshift nests might force the sparrows to relocate to another dock. My swallows could live in peace. Me, too.
I stayed for a while that afternoon, awaiting the response. The male and female sparrow arrived at their dismantled swallow nest and displayed quiet distress. The female leaned her head against her mates neck for a moment, then flew off. The male, took a few of the loose strands of grass remaining from our cleanup and placed them gently inside the nest.
A tender moment, I'd experienced. I felt like a beast.
Upon leaving the lake later that day, I wondered what might occur while I returned to my home and tended the flock living there. When I returned to the cabin a few days later, armed with my new Google research on the invasive sparrow empire in North America, I worried about my swallows. I found their original nest remained clear. However, another haphazard sparrow nest loomed above me in the rafters. But only one. Seemed the swallows with their tell-tale forked tails had gathered in force - the parents and both sets of babies born this year joined and running recon. One alighting on the fan, while several sat on the eaves, and when the male sparrow inched his way toward the swallow nest, two to three swallows huddled, emphasizing their presence.
I question my involvement in this process, that I turn up my nose to my neighbors decisions of chasing away the birds, hanging fake owls, and spraying weekly for spiders. But, I, too, have intervened in the process of nature. Even though I only sought peace for all of them, I chose one over the other. Difficult.
Meanwhile, my birdie looks on.