To our delight, Bluebirds took up residence again this year in the box in the back yard. We watched the parents bring nesting material to the box, and before too long we could hear babies peeping and cheeping. On the morning of May 21st, both parents were very busy, as usual. The beautiful male Bluebird posed for several shots, but he also had housekeeping duties to attend to. Akin to taking out the trash, Bluebird parents remove the encapsulated droppings of their young to keep the nest clean.
I slipped into the house to get some tests I needed to grade and came back out on the deck. I turned my chair so that I was facing the Bluebird box, and that's when I realized that Dad was sitting on a branch in a pine tree behind me. He was in clear sight of the baby, and he was making a constant low warbling sound. I got the impression that this was the last bird in the box; I didn't see Mom or any of the other babies.
I always feel so blessed when I'm able to witness nature's everyday miracles, such as a young bird learning to use its wings for the very first time!
I thought of this whole series of "miracles": that birds know how to build a nest, know how to keep their eggs warm, know how to care for their babies and know when they're ready to venture out into the world.
I thought of the dangers these little birds would face; hawks are frequent visitors in the yard, as well as neighbors' cats.... Would they be safe? Would they survive?
I thought of the quote sometimes attributed to William G.T. Shedd: "A ship is safe in a harbor, but that's not what ships are for."
I thought of how a similar philosophy could be applied to the baby Bluebirds: "A bird is safe in the nest, but that's not what birds are for" and yet I know that birds aren't always safe in their nests, either. Case in point, a good friend lost her whole colony of Purple Martins to a predator....
And so, with all of these thoughts and observations thought and observed, I simply wished them all well, thanked them for sharing this portion of their lives with me, and came inside.
That night I walked out on the porch. The floodlight on the corner of the house partially lit up the Bluebird box, and I was shocked to see something move at the entrance! My first thought was that another baby--perhaps one weaker or less developed--had been left behind. Just as my mind latched on to that possibility, I realized that I was seeing something draped over the top of the box....
I grabbed a flashlight and my camera and we quickly went outside, speaking softly and carrying a big, long stick... Wayne cautiously moved the latch on the box and used the stick to lift open the door. Indeed, a Black snake (also called a Rat snake) was curled up inside of the box. To my relief, there were no babies left in the nest--and no suspicious Bluebird baby-sized lumps in the snake as he or she was escorted out of the box and over the fence...
After we came back inside, another round of pondering began as we realized the timing of the day's events:
* If the Bluebirds hadn't fledged when they did, they could have become dinner for the snake.
* If the snake had discovered the box earlier, the babies might not have even had a chance to hatch.
* If we hadn't been home to see the Bluebirds leave the nest, we would have automatically assumed the worst.
* And if I hadn't gone out on the porch that night, I would have never known that the box was accessible to snakes.
This led to a more in-depth discussion, regarding what is in our control and what is not. I have no clear answers on that, but I do think that having a loving intent towards the natural world and one's immediate environment is a good place to start...
When I saw the adult Bluebirds checking out the box on the afternoon of May 30th--most likely for the purpose of starting another family--I went outside and cleaned out the old nest and also cut back some dead branches that might have given the snake access to the box. I still don't have any sort of shield on the metal post that the box is attached to, but from what I've read, Blacksnakes are excellent climbers and can usually work their way around most baffles.
So is the nesting box "safe"? I don't know. Is it "safer" than it was? Yes, I think so.
I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to watch this little family over the course of a few weeks and I hope to always be aware of the world's everyday miracles!