I spend at least a few minutes each day strolling around my yard enjoying daily and seasonal changes and pulling weeds. I have lived in this house for over 8 years and have planted native trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants hoping to better the ecosystem. I’m not a purist, but I am trying to provide for wildlife while battling invasive honeysuckle and glossy buckthorn. I greatly enjoy the visiting birds and from time to time am lucky enough to find nests.
About a month ago on one of my strolls, I noticed mulch sticking out of an evergreen bush about two and a half feet off the ground. I reached down to wipe the mulch off the bush and realized it was attached to a nest. Excited, I watched and within minutes a Song Sparrow arrived with dried grasses. She continued building and by the next day the first egg, muted green with brown speckles, lay in the soft, grass-lined cup. Although I don’t have Margaret Morse Nice’s knowledge of Song Sparrows, I definitely understand and share the intrigue and love she had for the natural world. After discovering the nest, I knew I too would come to learn more about this species. I expected three to five eggs, but instead a week later I discovered eight. Brown-headed Cowbirds often parasitize Song Sparrow nests, depositing similar looking eggs and pushing out their host eggs. Nice actually found 43.9 percent of Song Sparrow nests were parasitized by Cowbirds in her 1930’s research here in Ohio. I examined the eggs expecting to finds the slightly larger eggs of the cowbirds. A few looked suspicious, but I didn’t trust my knowledge. Time would tell.
Although I wanted to, I decided not to check the nest daily. I already disturbed the birds too often. Each time I left my garage or stepped onto my front porch to retrieve the mail I was reminded by the constant scolding “T’chink”, of the two parents. I started to neglect the area around the nest. Although I know the birds are hardy and easily adapt to humans, I wanted “my” birds to have a peaceful pregnancy; probably their first of 2 or 3 this season. I took the first photo on May 21st. I was amazed at how motionless the female sat on the nest. As soon as I was too close for comfort, she would jump to the ground and run, more rodent like than birdlike through my flowerbed. It is a great defense as it startled me every time. I knew what to expect and yet this element of surprise was constant.
One week later, on May 28th I saw the four seemingly fragile young. I honestly couldn’t tell if they were Cowbirds. I wondered if the female Song Sparrow would push the other eggs out of the nest. Although the eggs disappeared, I found none under the shrub.
Within two days I was reminded of how quickly small animals grow; the feathers were visible. I watched the parents collecting worms, insects, and seed from my yard. I was tickled when they landed in my garden and cheered each time I witnessed them pluck something from the ground, hoping it was one of the beetles that was eating my beans. These protein packed invertebrates from my garden were fueling the nestlings.
The nestlings looked larger and the nest bulged when I looked at them on June 3rd. Once a neat tight cup, the nest was now looser from the birds pushing outward. Never far, the parents continued their scoldings with each visit or passing. On June 5th I realized they were close to fledging and sometime over the next two days they left to discover a larger world.
I realized with this experience how often I let the songs in my yard become common. How many birds sing unnoticed each day? This small family brought the Song Sparrow’s song to my attention again. With each walk around the yard, or even if I’m sitting on the porch, I hear the song and smile. I am not taking the Song Sparrow for granted this summer.
THE SONG SPARROW
He does not wear a Joseph’s coat of many colors, smart and gay
His suit is Quaker brown and gray, with darker patches at his throat.
And yet of all the well-dressed throng, not one can sing so brave a song.
It makes the pride of looks appear a vain and foolish thing to hear
In “Sweet, sweet, sweet, very merry cheer.”
A lofty place he does not love, he sits by choice and well at ease
In hedges and in little trees, that stretch their slender arms above
The meadow brook; and then he sings till all the field with pleasure rings;
And so he tells in every ear, that lowly homes to heaven are near
In “Sweet, sweet, sweet, very merry cheer.”
-Henry van Dyke
Míme Migliore is the Nature Education Coordinator for the City of Dublin. Having grown up on a farm in Eastern Ohio, her love of the natural world has fueled her to learn and share as much as she can about wildlife. Míme can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org