Have you ever seen books or articles telling you how to turn your yard into a backyard habitat? I have. I followed their steps. My yard now meets all the requirements for being a backyard habitat. The only thing I didn’t do was pay for the certificate. I’m cheap.
Anyway, what I’m here to tell you is that I’ve uncovered a downside to attracting wildlife to your yard. Namely, you will be attracting wildlife to your yard.
At first I was charmed by the creatures choosing to visit my yard. The feisty hummingbirds, the delicate butterflies, the bad-tempered sparrows who I suspected were lobbing F-bombs at the feisty hummingbirds. All of it was quite interesting, in a Discovery channel, nature-programmy kind of way.
Then my yard turned into a Mockingbird prenatal ward and my life was turned upside down.Embed from Getty Images
I know what you’re thinking. Birds build nests in trees all the time. Why would that turn anyone’s life upside down? And you’re right. Had these birds chosen to build their nest in a tree, my life would have remained blissfully unaffected. But as it was, this pair chose to build their home smack dab in front of my living room window, behind a trellis holding a climbing rose.
Seriously. What kind of parents are these birds? If I was a bird with eggs up my bum, I wouldn’t move into such a high traffic area. Honestly. Where’s their pride? Where’s their sense of privacy? Where’s their desire to offer their offspring a better way of life?
Husband and I watched the nest building from our sofa, rather than TV. One appeared to be bringing the materials, while the other was packing the bits of string, lint, leaves, etc., into the base. We were mooned several times during the building phase, which took several hours.
The next day, the eggs appeared. There were three of them, and by this time I was now referring to the parents as Darcy and Lizzie. It didn’t take me long to grow more protective of them either. One night, when Husband switched on the porch light so he could grill his steak, I turned it back off. “The light will disturb Darcy and Lizzy,” I told him.
“Oh,” he replied. That’s all he said. “Oh.”
Then he grabbed his flashlight and went outside. Good man.
I went online to learn more about Mockingbirds. Here are a few of the more interesting bits:
- Mockingbirds are known as being “strongly monogamous.” Which must mean some birds are only half-heartedly monogamous.
- The male will begin to build anywhere from three to four nests in various locations. The female bird inspects each and the location she likes best, she finishes by putting in the lining. The male helps her by bringing string, leaves, bits of cloth, etc.
- Male and female mockingbirds share in all duties related to raising their young. From building the nest, keeping the eggs warm, feeding the nestlings, teaching them to fly, Darcy and Lizzy will have equal roles. They are very progressive thinking birds. I’m sure they listen to NPR.
- Not only do male and female mockingbirds share in duties, they also share many physical attributes. So the male mockingbird attracts his lady love not with flashy plumage, but with song. According to bird sites, he can mimic up to 300 different sounds. He’s not picky either, as he might mimic a car alarm, a dog bark, or some other odd sound.
- Mockingbirds nearly vanished from the east coast in the 1800s, due to their popularity as a pet. Nestlings would be snatched from their nest before they could fly, and could bring as much as $50 on the streets of major cities. Fortunately they fell out of fashion, or maybe people came to their senses, and the Mockingbird has made a complete comeback. So much so that they are listed as “least concern” for conservation.
Waiting for the eggs to hatch is starting to take a toll. I’m becoming a nervous wreck. If only I could do something, like knit little booties or something. But what does one do for baby birds? I set a shallow dish of water on a nearby table, but it seems such a paltry offering. I’d give them mealworms, but I have no idea where one buys mealworms.
Mealworms R Us?
Meanwhile, Husband asked a painter to come by and give us a quote for the house. When the painter asks us for a time frame as to how soon we’d like the work done, I step up to explain the situation. Mockingbird eggs take around 12 days to hatch, then it takes about another 12 or so days before the nestlings can fly, so we couldn’t possibly do it until after a month. Painter-guy smiles and nods. We do not see or hear from him again. Husband just sighs.
I give regular updates on Facebook as to the progress of our Mockingbird family and Niece asks me for a clearer picture of the eggs. Darcy and Lizzie were no where to be seen, so I went outside to snap a quick shot.
OH MY LORD — Duck, Run, Run, RUN — Angry mockingbird parent on left — OH DEAR GOD, there’s the other one! HELP! Who locked the door?! — godamnit open the door!!! AUGHHHHHH!!
You do NOT want to get between a mockingbird and her nest. Trust me on this one.
The next day, thank God, the eggs hatched. It was slow going, but by mid-afternoon they were all there. Three of them, seemingly lifeless and uglier than hell. I name them Jem, Scout and Dill (naturally).
However protective Darcy and Lizzy were before the babes were hatched is nothing compared to the frenzy they now exhibit. Dog now walks in wide circles around the area. Not sure what the back story is there, but it must be an interesting one. From indoors I can see the parents feeding the young by … you know … up-chucking into their mouths. Then they wiggle their tail-feathers and plop down, sitting on top of them. I suppose we shouldn’t wonder that the little turds often try to leave the nest before they’re ready. I would too if I were getting sat on and forced to eat vomit.
One afternoon I notice one of the little tykes missing. Knowing they weren’t quite ready to fly, I search the ground, then the planter, then Dog’s mouth for feathers. (Cat is strictly an indoor beast.) Nothing.
Finally I locate the little guy dangling midway between the nest and the ground, tangled up in the branches of the climbing rose bush. Daughter suggests we attempt a rescue mission, but Darcy and Lizzy are having none of it. Despite me wearing my dorkiest gardening hat and Daughter waving her arms to scare them off, they continually dive-bomb us and make a fearsome racket. Have you ever been cussed out by a bird? It’s not an enjoyable experience, let me tell you.
Just then, Husband walks through back gate wearing his motorcycle helmet. Eureka!
The Baby bird rescue mission was discussed and a plan was put forth: I, wearing wide brimmed straw hat and gloves, will retrieve baby bird, pass him over to Husband, then go inside house. Husband, wearing helmet and baseball mitt, will reach behind rose bush and per my instructions (being called out from other side of window), will put baby (now in baseball mitt) back in nest. Daughter will use my umbrella to keep vigilant parents from impeding said mission.
But in case there’s any misunderstanding, please don’t confuse my gloves and Husband’s baseball mitt as an attempt to keep parent birds from “smelling” our contact with the baby and rejecting him as a result. That doesn’t happen. I checked. Birds have a very poor sense of smell and therefore locate their babies by sound and sight. Smell has nothing to do with it. I wore my gloves for the simple reason that touching wild birds freaks me out. Who knows what’s on their bodies, am I right? My husband wore his mitt in order to extend his reach behind the bush and let the baby roll down into the next.
The plan agreed on, we take our places. Darcy and Lizzy vocalize their complaints, but Daughter waves the umbrella like a pro. I carefully dislodge baby bird from the branches — I believe it was Jem — and he eyes me suspiciously. I pass him to the mitt and run inside to call out instructions.
“Over more … More … Up … Up more … More forward … forward”
“What does ‘forward’ mean?”
“It means more front.”
“That doesn’t make sense!”
“Toward me, then!” Honestly. Men. “Okay, now up … up … now tilt!”
Roll, roll, roll, thunk. Baby bird lands head first in nest. Success! Mission accomplished, tragedy averted, crisis brought to a halt.
Did we receive thanks? Of course not. As far as Darcy and Lizzy were concerned, they were just glad the strange headed creatures moved away from the nest. I’m sure they thought their constant barrage of insults were what did the trick.
Four days later, I woke up to find the mockingbird family gone. All of them. The nest empty. Tidy but completely abandoned. Not a mockingbird in sight, young or old. Gone. Just … gone.
No note. No forwarding address … nothing.
I feel so used.
Let this be a warning to you: when you open your backyard up as a wildlife habitat, you open yourself up to possible heartache. It’s the price you pay.
This is something I created in honor of my feathered friends. I wanted the crust and topping to have a twiggy, feathery look, and I’m happy to report it tasted quite good. You’ll notice the coconut is optional, so if you are strongly opposed to coconut, just leave it out. By the way, why do people have such strong feelings about coconut? Either they love it or they despise it; no one is indifferent. Coconut is like the rabble-rouser of foodstuffs.
- 1 cup crushed graham crackers
- 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
- 1/2 cup toasted, unsweetened shredded coconut (optional, you can use more cracker crumbs and nuts instead)
- 2 Tablespoons sugar
- 1/3 cup melted butter
Mix everything together well and press into a 9 inch pie pan, reserving about 1/2 cup for topping. Bake in 350 degree oven for 10 minutes, or until lightly browned.
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 cups milk
- 4 egg yolks
- 2 Tablespoons butter
- 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut (optional, you can use chopped walnuts instead)
- 1 cup crushed pineapple, drained
- 2 bananas, sliced
In medium saucepan, stir together sugar, cornstarch and salt. Using a whisk, blend in milk and egg yolks and stir until smooth. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir one minute. Remove from heat; add butter and vanilla extract, stir until butter is melted. Add pineapple and coconut (or nuts), stir well. Layer sliced bananas on bottom of pie shell, pour filling over bananas, top with reserved crumbs from the crust.
If you forgot to reserve crumbs for the topping, like I did, then crush some graham crackers, add nuts and coconut — OMG, calm down, you don’t have to use coconut! — and sprinkle it on top. Chill pie thoroughly, at least a few hours. This is wonderful served with whipped cream.