Busy birds, busy bees

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Vince Luecke

It’s been over a year since a storm ripped a small weathervane from my garage roof. I didn’t miss the adornment that much but the resulting small hole in the metal roof has caused me aggravation.

Small amounts of rain falls through the hole, but there’s a new aggravation, a fat starling hell-bent on building a nest in the trusses.
The bird enters through the hole and has carried an amazing amount of nesting material, grass, stems and even bits of trash, into the garage. The nests, built in just a day, have been torn down multiple times and I think the mother bird finally moved to another site last week.

The nest-building bird and the battle to keep her from nesting above my car reminded me of similar experiences shared in a May 2004 column. It is reprinted below.

It’s humbling to get beaten at anything. I still remember sobbing after losing an elementary-school spelling bee. I’ve erased the memory of the word that tripped me, but I still remember the pain of hearing the tinny bell that signaled my defeat.

Losing is a fact of life, but to get beaten by a bird is hard to swallow. But outsmarted I was — by a little brown-feathered creature whose bird brain outwitted mine and proved that brains are greater than brawn.

It was a little over a month ago when I noticed a small bird, holding a piece of straw in its beak, perched on a corner of my carport. I watched the bird alight on a wooden beam at the end of the sloping roof and then disappear.

A few seconds later, it crawled back out, minus  the piece of straw.
Using a stepladder I had used to paint my kitchen ceiling the previous weekend, I took a look at the top of the painted beam. I had just moved into the house and just assumed the beam was solid.  But it wasn’t. A deep groove had been cut into  the foot-wide timber to help anchor the boards that formed the carport roof. A narrow strip of plastic covered the narrow opening. While the strip had been nailed into place and had kept out rain, this bird and others over the years had found their way into the narrow cavity.

Protected from the elements and safe from prowling cats and other predators, it was the perfect place for common birds to hatch their young.

Standing on the middle rung of the stepladder, I raised one corner of the plastic strip. Inside was a little nest, half-hidden by feathers. Most of the pieces of straw and grass were dull and worn, definitely a year old, but a few yellower and newer strands had recently been stitched into the nest. Either the bird returned to last year’s hatchery or fortuitously stumbled across it.

Not wanting the feathered intruder or her inevitable young to make make a mess on my carport, I decided to evict the bird before the egg-laying began. A few minutes later, I was busy hammering small nails into the strip, barring birds from crawling through the loose corners I had found.

Ten minutes later, the job was done and the problem, I concluded, was solved. But I was wrong. I had been outwitted.

Leaving for work a week ago, I heard telltale baby-bird sounds  coming from the same beam. The bird had apparently found a way into the hole after all. After mowing grass last Saturday, I parked myself on a lawn chair under my carport and waited. The bird arrived minutes later. Reluctant to approach me at first, it flew around and through the carport, chirping in distress. Then, finally, it landed on the beam and to my amazement lifted a small corner of the plastic strip with its head and disappeared inside.

I'd been beaten by determination. The bird found an opening - one that I'd overlooked. She had laid her eggs and hatched them, under my nose.

I still expect to find bird droppings on my concrete carport, but I don't begrudge the bird for wanting to return to her nest. She hadn't given up.

A couple of weeks ago, while taking photos of a brood of barn owls hatched in the steeple of Saint Mary's Church in Derby, I was shown a wall at the rear of the vacant church where honeybees had taken up residence. Years earlier, some curious bee had found its way - somehow -  into the century-old church and discovered a cavity surrounded by old plaster. It had relayed the discovery to the other bees and the entire hive had moved there. Since then, generations of bees had thrived in the wall, undisturbed and unnoticed.

Bees aren't dumb. Neither are birds. They have a lot more to teach us about the importance of determination and hard work - and the value of common sense - than they do about sex. A talk about the birds and the bees should be about ingenuity and creativity.

I suspect the bird I had barred from its nest kept looking for another door until it found one. The hive of honeybees, motivated by the desire for a new home, did the same thing. Both succeeded where some of us would have thrown up our hands and gone looking elsewhere.

I admire people who are determined to get things done, despite hardships.  Just Thursday, I saw an elderly woman moving down a sidewalk in Tell City with a walker in one hand and a broom in the other. If I had more time, I would have driven around the block just to see if she was really going to sweep the walk leading to her door.

Why would an old woman with a bad back or wobbly legs think it's so important to sweep her walk? She must have thought it was darn important, worth the time, aggravation and even pain. Maybe she'd swept that sidewalk for decades and had no plans of stopping, despite her age or health.

The bird in my carport and the bees inside the church remind me of old farmers who labored in  the fields well into their 70s or 80s. As a kid, they often hired me and my brothers to help them in the summer, but we seldom outworked them. The work was hard. Some of us would call it too much for an old man. Yet, they worked without complaint.

A lot of us grumble when times get tough and groan when our daily burdens, whatever they are, grow heavy. A determination to overcome obstacles and accomplish our goals in the face of challenges is admirable. There are people all around us who witness that kind of determination. So does nature, herself. All we have to do is take notice.