A life or death struggle in our front yard

BY RANDALL RIGSBEE, News + Record Staff
Posted 5/17/19

We build and inhabit homes that safeguard us from the elements, from pests, from predators.

Our air-conditioned environments, baring unusual events, serve us well. I, for example, fall asleep …

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A life or death struggle in our front yard

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We build and inhabit homes that safeguard us from the elements, from pests, from predators.

Our air-conditioned environments, baring unusual events, serve us well. I, for example, fall asleep night after night free of worry that a snake or some other unwelcome critter will crawl into the bed beside me, or a sudden rain shower will from above will soak me, or I’ll freeze.

But our carefully controlled and built-for-comfort homes can’t prevent life, in all its free-form beauty and danger, from going on around us outside the walls and roofs we erect for our well-being.

And so it was a few early evenings past, my wife and I reclined comfortably on our living room sofa, binge-watching “Dead to Me” on Netflix — it was one of those recent cool nights, so we had our screened windows open for fresh air — when a sudden commotion outside, near our front steps, aroused our attention.

We paused the television, stood from our comfortable seating, and rushed to the front door to determine the source of the alarm.

Just on the other side of our storm door, five feet or so from where we stood inside our house, an intense, confused life or death drama was in progress, two factions of birds loudly clashing.

For a moment, we watched the action as the four or five birds involved noisily squawked, fluttered their wings, and flung themselves at one another in a power struggle we couldn’t yet comprehend.

Opening the storm door and stepping onto the porch for a wider parameter, we became aware of another player in this wild drama; in fact, the primary player: a large crow that, from a point unseen by us above our roof line above, launched himself on a calm, winged flight towards freedom from the fuss.

We realized what the drama was about as we observed the crow, clutching in his beak a small baby bird as the other birds, fighting on the ground moments earlier, began flying upwards towards the crow in a final attempt to thwart him. But at this, they failed. The crow was victorious, his meal securely in his grasp as his wings smoothly propelled him towards freedom and a quiet place to eat. We watched him disappear into the woods behind the house immediately across the street.

For the next several moments, there was a spattering of more noise as the birds regained their composure following the confusion and, a few minutes later — except for the two human witnesses expressing their shock and amazement at the scene they just observed — there was quiet.

Two days earlier, the yard that had been the setting of the chaos just described, had seemed an entirely different scene, a textbook example of welcome springtime and emerging new life.

I’d come home the Friday afternoon before and opened our homes’ blinds and windows to let in the cool outdoor air and the welcome sight of verdant growth. With the windows open, we’d been slightly annoyed by an intermittent whining noise, which mimicked exactly the sound our mutt Bella makes when she’s needy of attention or a treat. In fact, my wife and I had both mildly scolded Bella, mistakenly thinking it was the dog making the noise, and only later realizing, after some detective work, that the real source of the noise was located in a bush near our front porch. Fledgling birds nestled in a bird’s nest there were whining to let their mama know they were hungry.

They had carried on like this through the weekend, whining at mealtimes. From a safe distance, we’d taken a look at the babies and we were charmed by them, but still weren’t loving their noisiness.

A couple of days later, courtesy of the predatory crow, came the quiet we’d wanted, but not the way we would have wanted it.

We would have preferred those babies get plenty to eat, grow, learn to fly, leave their nests and become productive members of bird society. Instead, they were attacked and became a meal themselves, and there was nothing we could do about it.

Through our human will and ingenuity, we control a lot about the spaces we inhabit, but we can’t control it all.


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