Gardening for Wildlife can be Harsh

The shy little Bewick's Wren

Sitting on a cushion, four feet from a tangle of toyon and coyote bush, I hear an eruption of urgent chattering within the thicket, and a buzzing in another bush a few feet to its right. I recognize the sounds of the Bewick’s wren, one of my favorite small birds. Bzzz. Bzzzz. Bzzzzz. Bzz bzz bzzz.

Continuously the noises endure. The birds are distressed. It’s distressing. My heart sits heavy like a lump of clay stuffed with stones. What can I do? I have no idea what I would be interfering with.

The Thich Nhat Hanh meditation I had begun is fluttering like rags at the edge of my mind.

Breathing in, I calm myself. Breathing out, I feel at ease. Breathing in, I smile. Breathing out, I release. Breathing in I dwell in the present moment. Breathing out, I feel it is a wonderful moment. 

It is not a wonderful moment. A Western Scrub Jay takes off from the behind the bush. He or she flies in confident upward swoops to the top of a Monterey pine a couple hundred feet away.

Western Scrub Jay at our bird bath

My heart twists. I find I am holding my breath. There is a little noise from the wrens, then silence.

I note that the jay does not clean its beak on the branch of the pine, which may be a good sign. Good that is, if you are on the side of the wrens.

I feel like I’m sitting before Schrodinger’s nest. I want to believe that the little mother stuck to her nest and poked at that big bad jay till he gave up. But I can’t. And I can’t think of the jay’s nestlings either.

An empty nest, somewhere else in the garden.

Whatever actually happened in a sense doesn’t matter. Life eats life. It’s going on all around me, and within me too. I’m having Tennyson’s emotional crisis, without his particular disturbance of faith. Nature is indeed, among other things, red in tooth and claw.

We who garden for wildlife, and encourage others to do so, tend to emphasize easier things...

The hummingbirds, who are flashing their beautiful colors and twittering all around me

I still keep up my dad's practice of feeding hummingbirds

The sparrows and finches I’ve watched feasting on the bunch grass seeds

Butterflies nectaring on the coyote mint

House finches eating elderberries

Lizards catching flies --
Well, insects are harder (though not impossible) to empathize with.

Near the Bewick Wren’s nest (or where I anyway surmise there is a Bewick Wren's nest) I hear a little buzzing to the left now. Then, a little later, buzzing to the right. Do I hear a brief fluttering within the bush?

Who am I kidding. If that jay wasn’t successful this time, she’ll be back. I wonder how long birds feel distress? I wonder what child-free birds do with the rest of their summer? Do they breed again? Do they rest and grow plump?

I’m not sure what to do with this wrenching empathy. I feel the need to end this post on an uplift. I know it’s a kind of inappropriate tenderness that makes me close my eyes during certain parts of any David Attenborough documentary. He is as boyishly enthusiastic about hyenas taking down baby gazelles as he is about the amazing colonies of bats whose guano he sinks knee-deep into as he approaches their cave. I adore him, I do, with a love that goes back fifty years or more. I just can’t be him.

Thich Nhat Hanh would meditate to the source of his anger or upset and look for the loving or forgiving action to take. But here no wrong has been done. What action is needed? This is just what it is to be alive. We suffer. We rejoice. We feel. We eat.

Feast of food for humans, made from mostly native plants (and animals)
 at one of Alrie Middlebrook's Eating California lunches.


LostRoses said…
I always try to remember: "Nature red in tooth and claw,"
Terra said…
Yes, there is a harsh side of nature. Scrub jays at our house get a lot of the food we want other birds to have, like the pair of mourning doves.
Town Mouse said…
What a wonderful and thoughtful post!

I try to remember that smart little birds might manage to hide their nests better. I believe the thought is that parents so inexperienced that the jay can easily find the nest might not be able to rear the babies successfully. And if they did, you wouldn't get the smart genes to be going to the babies.

As for the parents, I like to think they'll have a grand time without the bother of feeding the babies.

Country Mouse said…
A cheering update perhaps - I sat in the same spot this morning, it's actually about 8 feet from the thicket - and I saw a small Bewick's Wren gleaning in the thicket and I heard peeping - as of babies in a nest - and saw her disappear into the thicket - I think she was feeding the babies - and then she flew off. I didn't hear any noises after that and left within half an hour. BTW I also think a wrentit pair are nesting nearby as I've seen two of them frequently in the same general location.

Thanks for visiting and commenting on the post. Yes, Darwin would say this is all to the survival of the species, but we humans get so involved with the individuals!
Anonymous said…
I'm glad the baby wrens seem to be okay!
Country Mouse said…
This morning, I'd like to think I was hearing fledglings in the chaparral, begging for food, and Bewick's Wren parents buzzing and providing. I did also see a jay, but then I always see scrub jays around the chaparral slope. I caught a flash of one wren. Who knows what we are hearing. I try to tune my ears but there are still bird calls and songs that I don't yet know. One day I'll get myself to go join the Santa Cruz Bird Club!
Unknown said…
Good morning! I was wondering if you would possibly be interested in a guest blogging opportunity with Gardening Know How? If so, please e-mail me for details at:
shelley AT gardeningknowhow DOT com

Thanks and hope to hear from you soon!