Bird Brains

A few years ago, our friend Pat gave us a funky little birdhouse resembling a camera.

We never expected anyone to occupy it, but to our delight, recently a pair of Bewick’s Wrens took up residence.

They built a nest, and a week ago, the eggs hatched. Now, when a parent approaches to feed the nestlings, they all peep, “Me, me, me!”

Both parents share childcare, feeding the babies…

…and changing diapers too. The nestlings poop into mucus bags resembling pea-sized white balloons, nature’s zip-locs, which contain the mess until their parents remove it. Eco-friendly disposable diapers!


Day after day, from sunrise until sunset, rain or shine, the ‘wrents’ forage for insects for their young. Every five minutes or so, they bring food and remove the fecal sack on the way out, keeping the nest clean. They’re averaging over 300 deliveries per day!

How can such fragile creatures, weighing no more than 3 or 4 ounces, sustain such a grueling pace?  Not once, but twice each season, Bewick’s Wrens produce a brood.

Once common back east, they’ve all but disappeared east of the Mississippi. Pesticides took their toll, and loss of habitat. Conditions changed, other populations moved in. House Wrens expanded their territory into that of the Bewick’s Wren, and aggressively destroyed the eggs and nests of Bewick’s Wrens.

Illustration of Bewick’s Wren by J. G. Keulemans, 1881.

A subspecies, Guadalupe Bewick’s Wren, native to Guadalupe Island, Mexico, went extinct in the 1890s, due to habitat destruction.  The San Clemente Bewick’s Wren died out in the 1940’s, due to habitat destruction by feral goats, and cats.  In California, development of canyons has caused a sharp decline in the Bewick’s Wren population.

When I saw omnivorous crows and Stellar’s Jays swoop in, I moved my office to the dining room table, where I could keep watch and shoo them away.  So much can happen, and so quickly. Babies can fall from the nest. A brood can fall prey to a cat, a snake, an invasion of wasps.  A parent can be snatched by a Cooper’s Hawk.

Last week, one of my own little Bewick’s Wrens was caught by my neighbor’s cat, who took it home via the cat door.  My neighbor saved and released the wren before it was harmed. I was relieved that it returned to its nest. If birds feel threatened by lurking predators, including humans, they sometimes abandon the nest, leaving the babies to starve.  It seems harsh, but instinct drives them to protect themselves, so they might live to breed again, and perpetuate the species.

The balance between survival and destruction is precarious.  Driven by their survival instinct, they make tough choices, and work themselves half to death to ensure the survival of the species, if not their brood.  Ironically, we call them birdbrains, and claim to be the intelligent ones.

We’ve overpopulated this planet, yet instead of conserving our resources, we’re tearing through them like there’s no tomorrow.  Instead of protecting the future of our young, we tilt at windmills; but some countries are embracing them.  Iceland gets 100% of its energy from renewable resources.  99% of Costa Rica’s, and 98% of Norway’s energy is clean and renewable. Those socially responsible governments have taken the lead, right across the high ground, and shown the whole world that it can be done.

While humanity teeters on the brink of self-destruction, and other governments take action, in the United States, our corrupt leaders ignore grave warnings of virtually every climate scientist in the world.  This administration behaves like common looters, greedily stuffing their own pockets, while the building they were hired to protect burns all around them.

In a BBC interview, scientific genius, the late Stephen Hawking, said that pollution, coupled with greed and stupidity, was the biggest threat to the human race, and that climate change would be humanity’s extinction event. “With the development of militarized technology and weapons of mass destruction…the best chance for the survival of the human race might be independent colonies in space.”

But what if, instead, we could be tireless caregivers, make those tough choices, those sacrifices, and be willing to do whatever it takes to ensure the survival of the species–all of them?  What if we could think like a bird that gets spit out by a cat and flies straight back to defend its nest?  Unlike birds, people can’t just pick up and go make a new nest; we have only this one small planet to call home.  Unlike people, even birds know better than to foul their own nest.


All words and images ©2019 Naomi Baltuck




  1. scillagrace says:

    So important to be careful, care-giving, and do deal responsibly with your waste! Excellent post, my friend.

    1. Thank you, Priscilla! Nestlings have all fledged and I can now water the garden on the deck. I feel like a proud Grandma!

  2. rabirius says:

    Excellent post.

    1. Thank you so much!

  3. Carol says:

    Perhaps we need more people with bird brains – or, maybe, do we already have too many? We are certainly suffering from a failure to use our brains in useful ways.

    1. Dear Carol,

      It’s unbelievable what’s happening. Trump just reclassified toxic waste as non-toxic, so they can dump it anywhere cheaply. The EPA is led by people who have been handpicked to dismantle environmental protections, so they can destroy our environment without interference. We have to get out and vote, and get other people out to vote, and contribute to the campaigns of people who will try to undo the damage the Republicans have been doing and keep on doing. But we can’t give up. We have to be like that little bird, spit out by the cat, and get back to work!

  4. Meg says:

    Love this post, Naomi. I learned a lot from these little birds. When I was a kid I used to wonder who the little bird was when my granny said ” A little bird told me that you …” Now I Know.

    1. Thank you so much, Meg!

  5. How wonderful to be able to watch the wrens! And how wonderful it would be if we could learn to follow their example.

    1. Oh, if only! So much depends upon who we elect to office, and I hope it will be someone who cares more for the future of the planet than his own greedy selfish purposes.

  6. Roy McCarthy says:

    Survival of the fittest and what we might see as cruelty in the natural world is one thing, it’s when man intervenes then that’s sad. I read that non-native feral cats in Hawaii, Australia and no doubt elsewhere are wreaking havoc on native species. Not the cats’ fault of course – they were introduced by (mainly) Europeans.

    And what a good analogy between the animal kingdom and short-sighted humanity.

  7. Roy McCarthy says:

    I just read the best metaphor, by Patricia B. Smith.

    ‘We humans are hurtling toward oblivion, unwitting passengers on a plane flown by mad pilots who are willing to rip off the wings midflight and sell them for scrap because they have parachutes, and don’t care that none of the other passengers do.’

  8. Your photos are stunning. I feel like you captured each bird’s personality. 🙂

  9. Brava! Beautiful and necessary truth-telling. ❤

  10. Excellently demonstrated. ❤ I wish luck to all of us.

  11. Ruth says:

    What a lovely a post Naomi. I love their little house and your narrative and excellent photos illustrating the dear birds and also the threats to their lives.

  12. Meg says:

    Reblogged this on Story Twigs the Imagination! and commented:
    Great story with just the right photos. Naomi has written an inspiring piece about sustaining our planet. Thankyou.

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