Next Door Neighbors
by Bob Ciminel
We've had a family of nuthatches nesting in our yard for the past eight years, ever since I put up bird feeders. They really liked the fire station birdhouse I put on a pole under the red bud tree, until an ice storm dropped about three tons of pine branches on it and smashed it to smithereens.
I didn't get another birdhouse up until the following year, and we worried that our nuthatches might have moved to a better neighborhood; one without any trees. But after I put up a house decorated with the Pittsburgh Steelers logo, they came back. That birdhouse fell victim to a thunderstorm and another bout of pine branches. That was last year, and I haven't put up another one.
If there is one thing I've learned from my 25 years living in the South it's that pine trees have two functions in life. One is to be lightning rods; the other is to drop branches on anything of value in your backyard. Those are their primary function. Secondary functions are to clog your gutters with pine needles; knock you on the head with pinecones; and destroy your sinuses in the spring with pine pollen. They offer little shade, and the only good pine tree is the one the pulp mill turned into Sunday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Oh, okay, they are good for one other thing; pine cones make great fire starters for the charcoal grill, unless they are damp, in which case you need a blowtorch to get one to burn.
So, getting back to the wreath, we eagerly awaited the arrival of the first birds to show up at the back door and start tearing it apart. But, the only one who showed up was a tiny female nuthatch; one that I did not recognize. She didn't tear the wreath apart; she built a nest in it. She wasn't very smart. We have two cats and a dog that use the door to go into the backyard. Now the dog would never be a problem, but the cats, well, that's a different story.
Both cats have had their front claws removed, over the objections of our recently-graduated niece, Melissa, who is veterinarian. She went through the roof when I called her one day and asked if I should use needle-nose pliers to pull out their claws. Just kidding, Mel; we took them to the vet, who we think anesthetized them before pulling out their claws with the needle-nose pliers.
We've had de-clawed cats in our house since 1971 and it never stopped a single one of them from capturing any animal they chose to go after, so you can see the problem with the birds at the backdoor. The cats know the birds are there, and Max has tried to jump on the wreath several times, but it's just a little too high. So, the cats are confined to the house and garage until the hatchlings can leave the nest. They are not happy about it, but this isn't a democracy, and the king and queen have issued a decree.
Yesterday, when I arrived home
from work and let the dog out the back door. We have a little
ritual. First, I knock on the door three times to let the nuthatch
know someone is coming out. Then I crack the door open only enough
to let Foxy Lady scoot out. She has been on a diet for the last
few months, so we don't have to open the door nearly as far.
We've had to chase nuthatches out of the house several times
in the past month, so the ritual is very important. Anyway, yesterday,
as I tapped on the door, three big mouths popped out of the nest,
screaming, "Feed me! Feed me!" I was immediately flooded
with memories of my children, before they were old enough to
reach the handle on the refrigerator door.
He assumes informed readers will be able to tell the difference.