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

 

How I Survived Turkish Cooking Class

My specialty is grilled cheese sandwiches, with the burnt side scratched off and served charred side down.  If it’s really burnt, I serve it with wine.  Lots of wine.  But cooking is my son Eli’s passion, which is how I happened to sign up for a Turkish cooking class while we were in Istanbul last October.

Eveline, owner of A la Turka, is a Dutch woman who followed her bliss to cooking school in Paris, then to Istanbul, to open her own cooking school and restaurant.  Feyzi, her master chef, is an excellent teacher.  Surprisingly, he manages to impart his wisdom without uttering a word.

Feyzi  had me with his first demonstration on the importance of presentation, as shown below.

We were cooking a five course dinner–red lentil soup, stuffed eggplant, zucchini fritters, stuffed grape leaves, sweet cakes, and even Turkish coffee.  Eli was jazzed; I was in it for the two glasses of Turkish wine they promised us with our dinner.   I waited for a task fitting my limited repertoire of culinary skills–scraping the burnt crust off grilled cheese sandwiches, and popping the cork off wine bottles.  Peeling and cutting up tomatoes for eggplant stuffing fell to Eli and me.  We took up our knives and jumped into the proverbial frying pan.

Cooking is like magic.  You start with raw materials…

…wave your magic wand, or stir it with your spoon, to be more precise.

And abracadabra!  You have crisp tasty zucchini fritters!

When I volunteered to stir the eggplant stuffing…

…I didn’t know Feyzi wanted me to do it with my hands.

Next we took eggplants, peeled them and gutted them.

  Am I the only one who thinks this looks like a breeding nest of baby space aliens?

Oh no! They’re getting away!

Eveline suggested I use paper toweling to clean my hands, instead of my apron.  I looked down and noticed the mess of red tomato-gut handprints on my front.  Dang!  And everyone else’s aprons were spotless.   Meanwhile, Eli was sprinkling pistachio crumbs over the sweet cakes too far from the plate, and he was relieved of that duty.

I decided I couldn’t get into trouble if I took a job stirring the pot on the stove.

As you can see above, I was blissfully ignorant of the fact that my oven-mitted left hand had caught fire.  I did finally notice in time to save the hand, and the kitchen, if not my pride.

Eli says we were the ugly stepchildren in that class, but we did learn lots of tricks…like washing oniony hands in lemon water, or how to chop great quantities of herbs with a blade resembling a Klingon Bat’leth.

Among other things…



We were the stars of our own little cooking show, at least in our own minds.

We learned how to turn this…

…into this!

I also learned that I prefer white over red wine.  Nobody got killed.  And I’m thinking of starting my own cooking school.  Maybe I’ll call it “Cooking a La Turkeys.”

All images and words C2012 Naomi Baltuck

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