Saturday, June 15, 2019

A Love Story: Tweet One

Who knows where a love story begins?

The best ones don't always start with the precision of Cupid's arrow. Some take time. And sometimes you can fall in love without even knowing someone's name. In this case, I had a name. But I wasn't sure who to attach it to.

Marge and Studley Windowson were more of a concept at first. True, I did have a pair of authentic chickadees and a house to put them in. But I didn't know if it was the same pair every spring. I didn't know which one was Marge and which one was Studley. I didn't even know how they knew. I think they just did what felt natural and then waited to see who the egg dropped out of. Strictly speaking, this is not the case. I read up: the female scouts the nest site and puts the mattress together while the male brings around snacks. So I knew who was who while Marge was hammering away in the nest box, but then as soon as they were both on a branch I was all befuddled again.

Fortunes change. Some years they blasted in with 5,000 bugs a day and baby birds came out. Some years they took off and left their eggs unloved. One year they were aced out by nuthatches. It's always something.

But then last year one of them showed up with a bum foot, and it turned out to be Studley. Brave Studley curled his swollen toes up in his belly feathers and devoted his days to supporting Marge any way he could think of. He parked on a nearby twig with his head swiveling for danger. He chased away smaller birds and hollered at the rest. When he came back this spring, with his missus, and minus two toes, I about lost my mind with joy. I wanted to take up trumpet. The cups are still rattling in the cupboards.

The trouble is, there's always trouble. It's harder to go from an egg to a journeyman bird than you might think. There are wasps. Mites. Other birds can't be trusted. Several of my neighbors are devoted to seeing that their cats can express their wild nature, and my yard is where they like to do it. And the tree that used to shade the Windowson residence has only a cowlick of leaves remaining. If the eggs don't get poached by a critter they could get poached, period. I learned how to reconstruct the nest box to keep it cool, but too late to avoid disturbing sweet Marge. Fortunately, it hasn't gotten hot yet.

But once the bug and grub train gets rolling, it'll be Grand Central around here. By the time the nestlings are about ready to fly away, Marge and Studley will be hauling in groceries about once a minute, dawn to dusk. You'll never see a stronger work ethic. Last year their brood failed. I wanted dearly to help.

"Mealworms," I told Dave, who reminds me of Studley.

We took off for the mealworm store.

What I wanted to do, I explained to the mealworm store lady, was crack the window open and dispense mealworms from my windowsill. I'm right there a couple feet away from the bird house. Maybe they'd even take them from my hand, I said, all fizzy with the possibility.  I once spent a half hour still as a statue with sunflower seeds in my hand and snagged two indelible seconds with a pine siskin. And of course I've had gray jays land on me. If you wear a suit made out of cereal, a gang of gray jays will strip you naked in nothing flat.

The mealworm store lady frowned. You don't want to attract scrub jays, she said. If you have a suet feeder on the other side of your house, you could hang a mealworm feeder underneath it and your chickadees will find it right away.

That felt less personal. But the image of a scrub jay slicing through the air with a fuzzy new nuthatch reopened a gash in my memory. I did not want to attract jays.

But I did buy the mealworms.

To be continued. This post and the next are dedicated to Julie Zickefoose and her wide-open heart.


  1. As well this post should be dedicated to Julie, because you have her cliff-hanger endings down! I'm glad that Studley made it through the winter; I was concerned about his bum foot.

    Would it be terribly mean of me to wish that your neighbors' cats met their "wild nature" against the grille of a car? After all, automobiles need to express their "wild nature" as well.

    1. I wish that on a daily basis, and yes, it's mean. So be it!

  2. Replies
    1. I swear, it's a miracle anybody gets any new birds out in this world.

  3. So Studley is down to two toes? Any pics of that? Yes, Mr. Anatomy is curious.

  4. Fingers and toes crossed for this enduring, hardworking pair of lovers.
    And a big YES to the wonder of having a wild bird feeding from your hand.

  5. Wednesday is soooooo far away!! I hope this has a happy ending, after making us wait :D

    I wish people would keep their cats indoors. It's better for the birds and better for the cats. Usually. Unless the cat is a hearty eater and packs on the pounds and the vet has to tell you it's time the cat went on a diet. Speaking hypothetically. Maybe.

    1. I don't think outdoor cats get a huge ton of exercise. They just get birds.

    2. Oh and ALSO, I'm not that thrilled with the holes dug and the shit left by these same cats. If you can keep your cat in your own yard, fine. But you can't.

    3. My cat lives inside and hisses like crazy at the neighbour's half grown kittens who are allowed to roam and like to snooze on my sunny front porch.

  6. We had a similar "couple" when we lived in British Columbia, a pair of quail who came daily to be fed. We called them Emmett and Maud. One late fall day Emmett turned up with one leg broken at the joint and jutting sideways at a 90 degree angle. He had to hop on his remaining leg and we feared he would die. He must have been in agony, but animals persevere, don't they? We didn't see him for a while and Maud - well she looked exactly like every other quail hen in the flock, which had grown to about 40.
    But come Spring they reappeared. His leg still stuck out, and they raised eight fluff ball chicks.

    It's been against the law to let your cat run outdoors here since the 1980s. Our cats sit on our second-floor balcony, so I was stunned when our young tabby leapt six feet into the air and snatched a young sparrow right out of the air a few days ago. Luckily he ran inside with it. I grabbed him by the nape of the neck and shook him and he let go of the bird. It flew out the open door unharmed except for the loss of a few feathers. I suspect that was its 1st flight, as the nest was only two feet from our balcony rail and the chicks all fledged that day. That one chose the wrong direction to fly. Nevertheless I closed the screen so the cats couldn't access the balcony.

    1. "Here" is where, exactly? Since the 1980s? So people actually can get used to the idea, just like they got used to picking up poop?

  7. Ohhh Studley. He came back. I want to know why the birds we love most turn up with the most awful afflictions. I have many examples in my mushed heart. Thank you my love. Until Wednesday.

    1. In my case, I wouldn't recognize them without the affliction. But I know your antennae are wigglier than that.

  8. Why can't Nature be vegan? All this red of tooth and claw stuff is necessary I know but the older I get the more I feel sad when some animal suffers. Not cats, but everything else.

    1. Yeah, it's tough. I used to like scrub jays until the Nuthatch Incident and now I want to take a broom to them--in nesting season. BTW, they don't scare easily.

  9. Fingers crossed for everything turning out well. That first picture made me smile, the bird is looking into the nest with such an expression of love. and is that a baby chickadee in the last photo? Hooray for babies!

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