Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Sunday, May 27, 2012


The other day I chased some deer off my property, a common activity now that the shrubbery is all leafed out and the grass grows long between mowings. 

House wren, from last year.

As the white-tails ran off into Greystone across the street, one of my neighbors came out of his house to chat. He pointed out to me something highly unusual - a duck on a nest in his yard.

I didn't see it at first because the duck, a mallard, was perfectly camoflaged with her speckled back and dull appearance. She had her bill tucked in and was within a thick, fenced-in stand of irises in a small area under a large shade tree. My neighbor told me his wife had accidentally scared up Mother Duck - which is how she found the nest - and there were 11 eggs.

My neighbor and his wife are being protective of the duck nest, as I would be, and I can only hope the ducklings will be able to safely follow their mother off the nest, through the backyards, into Greystone - my neighbors' backyard abuts the edge of the property - and into Thompson Brook where they can grow.

At this time of year there are already birds on nests in New Jersey. Were I still working in Englewood Cliffs I'd have seen redtails Harold and Maud feeding young by now on the nest I discovered. Same with the robin nest I found in the courtyard of my former office building.

Birds are not alone. I always associate Memorial Day weekend with the one year a doe decided to drop a fawn on the end of my lawn, out in the open, right at the curb. When I saw it all curled up I thought it was dead. It was not. I worried that someone's dog would get at it so I did what I've always done at such times - I called my brother-in-law in NH, the teaching naturalist.

Newborn fawns have no smell, he told me, so as far as a dog would be concerned, it would just be part of the scenery.

That wouldn't apply to humans, however, and Mother Doe must've known this because the next day the fawn was off the curb and in the long grass behind my house near the flood wall. Our mower was still in the shop and the backyard looked like a meadow. The fawn stayed there a day or two before its mother led it someplace else. That was the first and, so far, last time.

I've also found a rabbit nest when I was clearing leaves from around a shrub at the side of the house. I quickly put the leaves back on it and then checked with my brother-in-law. He said that as long as I hadn't touched the young they'd be OK.

I am sure if I wanted to do so I would find a lot of nests in the shrubs and in the weeds at the borders of my backyard. Some of my other neighbors whose backyards border Greystone have seen skunk, racoon and fox families, and I was once awakened in the wee hours of a mid-May morning by a surreal sound that turned out to be mob of owlettes - likely great horned owl at that time of year - begging their mother for food. When I came outside in a futile attempt to look for them, Mother Owl silently led them away, their calls receding.

House wren nest box
Cardinals, catbirds and robins are more likely nesters in my yard, as are sparrows and house finches, with more birds such as woodpeckers and chickadees in holes in the trees. 

You probably have nests, too. If you find them please leave them alone and do not move them to what you think is a safer or more convenient location. The birds usually know what they are doing and if you move the nests you are dooming the young.

There is one nest in my yard that I can easily see - the box I hang from my apple tree for the house wrens. Every year at least one pair usually makes a nest and raise young in that box. This year, however, like everything else - roses blooming in April, certain migrant birds arriving weeks early, summer weather in winter - something is off and the wrens have not nested in the box.

That doesn't mean they haven't found my backyard, however. For the last few mornings, at first light, a house wren has been singing vigorously, proclaiming to the world this is his territory and he's protecting it. He's more reliable than my alarm clock!

Once in a while, if I'm out on the porch at the right time, I've seen a second wren flying around the yard with him. So there must be a nest somewhere, perhaps in my big hedge.

I'm leaving them alone. Perhaps the next brood will be in the box where I can see them develop.

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