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

 

The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be

When visiting the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio with my cousins June and Nancy, a huge sculpture immediately captured my attention.

It dominated the back wall of the entry hall, a 3D rainbow of recycled paper, cardboard, and plastic.


The sculptor, Lisa Hoke, titled the piece “The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be” in a nod to baseball player Yogi Berra, who was famous for employing the English language in surprising and humorous ways.  I don’t know exactly what Lisa intended when she chose that title for this piece, but it seems appropriate.

This work of art features colorful patterns created by discarded packaging of consumer goods, mostly paper and plastic.

Trash, really.


But Lisa has mindfully and creatively transformed refuse into something beautiful– and useful, too—for art satisfies the senses and stimulates thoughts and feelings.

Here’s what this piece brought to my mind: We are trashing our planet.  Landfills are overflowing and oceans have become dumping grounds.  Imagine if we could do what Lisa has done, only in our real lives and on a larger scale–by making less garbage, of course, but finding ways to make the most of it.

Our deck is made of recycled plastic.  Paper products like toweling, books, and stationary are made of recycled paper.  Instead of adding countless plastic grocery bags to the landfill, cloth shopping bags can be used again and again.

There’s no doubt that Yogi was right—the future ain’t what it used to be.  But wouldn’t it be a fine thing to recycle the old future into a better one for ourselves and our children?

All photos and words c 2013Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Sculpture.

Making Correct Change

Imagine a time when Manhattan was all forest.  Now the surviving trees are like living things herded into a corral of concrete and steel.

We have careened through time like a car without brakes…

In our wake a city of skyscrapers has sprung up where once a forest grew, but the city remembers its roots…

The past lurks, like a silent ghost, peeking out from dirty windows in the attic…

…Or a little lost child, peering from between the legs of strangers in a crowd.

But beneath all the the glitz and glamor and bright lights…

…the old grand dame still thrives.

From past and present must come the future.

If we proceed with caution…

…and careful reflection…

…with respect for all living things…

…the heart of the city will always be strong.

All images and words copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of Sunday Stills: Buildings Over Four Storeys Tall.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Environment.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Change.