for rent: pnthouse w/ brd’s-eye vw.
we waited 15 months for someone to move in. at last, it seems, they’ve filled the condo tower. all except for the penthouse, that little hole up at the tippy top of the triangle.
the builders are bewildered. all the other holes, they left unfurnished. but not the penthouse. “a pillow and a recliner for dad,” that’s what they put in there. the builder says so. he was standing there the other morning, beaming. just beaming. he is so proud that he built a birdhouse and they did come, the birds did.
“maybe somebody signed a lease but they’re not moved in,” chirps the other builder, refusing to believe that all his hammering and sawing would be, well, for the birds. that penthouse, he insists, is one fine specimen of three-sided real estate. way he sees it, the birds, if only they’d use their eensy-weensy brains, oughta be takin’ numbers, lining up like little planes, trying to muscle their way into his signature construction.
mind you, this is not some scrawny birdhouse. this mother of all birdhouses measures a full 5-by-4 (and that’s feet, folks, not inches). you don’t even need binoculars to see it. fact is, i’ve seen neighbors walking by, necks twisted nearly 180, gawking. scratching their fool heads. i’ve had folks stop me, is that really a bird house, they wonder?
no, it’s an homage to swiss cheese, i wanna tell them. of course it’s a bird house. what else would you think of putting on the tippy top of the gable of your house?
see the little eggs hanging from underneath? that was the architect’s idea of a joke, an architectural folly, as it were. they get their yucks in funny ways, those architects. (or should i say their “yolks”?)
anyway, i love my birdhouse in the clouds. i couldn’ta cared too much less about how they rejiggered the outside of this old, ill-proportioned house, the one that made my husband, the architecture critic, cringe. but when they came up with the idea for the birdhouse, i got downright giddy.
the architects have a little trick, and, silly them, they think i’ve not caught on. anytime they draw a drawing of our house, they make sure to toss in whole subdivisions of gabled dwellings for the birds. they think i’ll be so distracted tracking flocks of birdish houses i’ll forget to pay attention to whatever else it is they’ve drawn. but i’m no fool. i play along.
truth is, i am a little wingy for the birds.
of course not everyone thought the house of holes was such a bright idea. my mother, ever sensible as you’ve come to know, mentioned just two things as she rolled her eyes: noise, and what the french would call le poop.
so far, neither has been a problem. the birds at my house are polite. matter of fact, i think they rather appreciate their finely-feathered digs. who wouldn’t? it’s warm, it’s safe, it’s high up in the trees—heck, practically in the clouds—and it’s got that bird’s-eye view. and besides, they can listen in on all the rumblings down below, where i sleep soundly.
seems pretty much the folks who’ve moved in are the sparrows, the common house sparrow, a winged thing famous for finding any hole in anything and calling it home sweet home. there’s a teeny tiny hole just above our front door, and don’t you know, the sparrows have moved in. the splattering of grasses and twigs is piling up on the doormat, just in case we need reminding.
now, unless you, like my high-rise birds, have spent your days holed up inside some skyscraping tower and have no clue of the doings of the grassy world, you probably are aware of the fact that this is full-throttle nesting season. yessiree, it is.
which brings us to the part of this meander in which you too can play along.
let’s say, for instance, that you do not have a birdie triangle atop your gable. and that you have little chance of getting one in the next few days. well, that is not to say that you too cannot be a part of something nesty.
yup, it’s time for that ol’ slumber party pastime, the scavenger hunt. gather the kiddies, or gather just your beautiful bountiful self. scrounge around the house.
gather this: clumps of human hair from the hairbrush (or your head; your choice). dog or cat fur, whatever’s lying around. bits of string, cut up into 8- or 9-inch bits. yarn, the more naturally-dyed, the better. raffia.
for the pure joy of it, i love to put out little scraps of fabric. i swear nothing will make your heart skip quite so sweetly as seeing a snippet of your bedroom curtains tucked in mama robin’s nest.
(cotton, by the way, is not the best bit; too water-absorbent, and if mama and papa go off in pursuit of worm, the little hatchlings left behind in soggy cotton could die of cold in the short time they’re without mama or papa’s warm belly resting on their cold bald heads. silk might be quite nice. or, perhaps, a rich brocade.)
now, go grab an onion sack. you know, that little red mesh bag the onions come in. or a golden brown one, if that’s what your store shells out. the color, trust me, doesn’t matter.
take the bag and stuff it with all your nesting offerings. hang it from a bush, a tree, or a nail banged in your fire escape, for cryin’ out loud. if you’re without a bag, fear not, just cast your hairballs to the wind. or, if you wanna be fussy about these things, drape it delicately on the shrubs.
you might post a little sign, if you’re so inspired. something along the lines of this: “free for the pickin’. from our hairy brush to your feathered home.”
do not, as of the latest missive from the audubon society, clean out the lint from your dryer, not if you use those dryer sheets that make your bath towels soft and oh-so-yummy smelling. nasty chemicals lurk in those yummy smells and, over time, they will do in the poor unsuspecting birds.
also, if you really want to muddy things, do this: stir up a little pot of mud—or, here’s a prescription, make a plain old mud puddle–and leave it in your yard. the robins, who line their nest with mud, will love you. they might even land on your window ledge and sing you a special song.
my wonderful bird man, tj, gave me that swell idea.
he says that the birds are born knowing how to nest. says they’ve got the shopping list tucked in their little birdie brains. and believe it or not, he says they remember the nest they were hatched in, and somehow they know to go about building just like their mama and papa did. birds’-nest blueprints buried deep inside. i kinda like that.
right now, says tj, the birds have one and only one burning desire: making baby birds. “their little bodies are bursting with hormones,” he says. “it’s sort of like seasonal puberty.”
and it’s tied, interestingly, to the amount of daylight, not temperature. with every extra minute of sunbeam pouring down, the birds flit here and there, flapping madly in full winged pursuit of that solitary bird preoccupation: the feathered nest that stands between them and those babies, soon arriving in the form of eggs.
the eggs, in the case of sparrows, might already be here. which means the triangle i think of as the avian haute condo, might in fact be an obstetrics wing.
the rest of the birds–the robins, the cardinals, the chickadees, even the red-bellied woodpeckers, won’t be laying eggs ’til at least the end of april, or early may, all the way through july.
but before we get too deep into eggs, we await, any day now, the torrent of returning neo-tropical birds—orioles, tanagers, hummingbirds, cedar waxwings, and all the warblers—all of whom spent the winter sipping little birdie cocktails with pink and orange paper umbrellas down in the jungles and on the beaches of central and south america.
there is much to learn about the care and feeding of the migrant birds. and we will get to all of that.
but first, go grab your hairballs.
any questions, class? yes, you in the pink shirt…
p.s. you probably already noticed, because you are all in accelerated wings here, but did you see the little sparrow sitting on his front porch up there? it took hours to get that picture, so i wouldn’t want you to miss it.
and finally, seriously, many more prayers please for my beloved susan and her mother. it was a long night in surgery last night. bless them abundantly.