Count me among those envious souls. One of the recurring themes in my
dreams is flying like a bird.
In this entry I have two fun critter stories to share with you from "spring break"
at our house in Virginia.
HAVEN FOR WILDLIFE
Because our house is surrounded by hardwood forests we
see a lot of wildlife here -- deer, fox, wild turkeys,
hummingbirds, song birds, owls, buzzards, squirrels, groundhogs,
chipmunks, moles, voles, mice, turtles, lizards, snakes, butterflies,
bees, wasps, a variety of other insects, and probably some other mammals
and reptiles I've either forgotten to mention or haven't seen.
It's a busy place, even when we're gone traveling. Jim and I may not
consider it "home," but all these critters do.
This is one of the Tom turkeys with his tail fanned out in a mating
ritual across the road where our neighbors have been clearing out some
trees and brush:
I took that picture through a window in our house from about
250 feet away; it isn't real clear but you get the idea.
Although we saw several adult male and female turkeys
strutting around our woods we didn't see any
turkey babies this spring. We had the good luck to observe some other
avian babies, however.
BIRDS OF A FEATHER
The day we got back to the house we noticed even more song bird activity on
the deck outside our family room than usual.
Two pretty gray and yellow songbirds kept flying back and forth to
one of the corners of the deck after perching on the deck railing, edge of the roof,
or in nearby trees in the yard where they could see the house and watch
Here's one of the adult birds:
What kind of bird am I? A Carolina wren,
We were so preoccupied with unpacking the camper and getting
organized that it was several days before we realized what they were up to.
Jim was the first to notice a nest they'd built behind an outdoor
light fixture on one side of the sliding glass doors from the
family room to the deck:
That's the first time in eight years, since we've owned the house, that birds have built a
Although there were a couple of downsides -- some
inconvenience and a lot of bird poop on the walls and deck -- the
entertainment we got for five weeks was worth it.
ENOUGH FOR AN OMELET??
A couple days after spotting the nest we got curious enough to peer inside
when the parents were temporarily gone.
Oh, my! There were five little eggs inside, each less than an inch
Clutch of five (4-8-12)
We don't know how long they were there before we found them.
I did some research on baby songbirds. From what I read an average time for the
babies to hatch is two to three weeks, with a similar amount of time
before they are strong enough to fly.
Mama and Papa Bird got used to Cody being on the deck but they flew
out of the nest every time Jim or I opened the sliding glass door or
ascended the stairs from the ground level. We
tried to limit the number of times we did that, which was inconvenient
but we knew it was important for the Mom and Dad to keep those eggs warm.
Within a couple weeks of spotting the eggs Jim noticed a broken egg
shell on the deck below the nest. We hoped that meant the babies were
hatching but we were also concerned that perhaps an egg
had fallen out and the embryo eaten by a predator.
We got the step stool out again and peered inside the nest.
my! No eggs -- there was now a pile of little fuzzy baby birds inside!!!
We watched a flurry of activity for the next two weeks as the
parents brought food to the young 'uns.
It was so interesting to watch the pile of fluff rise higher and
higher in the nest, until we could see the top one or two babies while
we stood on the deck without a step stool.
I was hoping the babies were rotating positions so all of them got to
be on top part of the time! The ones at the top of the heap might have been cooler at night but at
least they'd get fed. I don't know if the parents stayed there at night
after the babies hatched or not.
I didn't want to
freak out the parents or babies by getting too close too often but it was
fascinating to see the fluff turn into feathers and the little yellow
beaks get bigger and bigger day by day.
FLEW THE COOP
As time went on we wondered if we'd see the babies fly before we left
on our summer trip.
They were getting so big that the nest was crowded.
I don't know where the parents were sleeping; by this time there certainly
wasn't room in that nest for seven birds:
Above and below: 4-27-12
The morning of May 1st I went out to take a picture
of the birds. As the camera got closer to the nest I was startled when
one of the babies flew out -- and kept going to the trees on the
other side of the camper!
A second one followed in a few seconds. It made it into the trees,
Then a third one flew out -- and fluttered to the floor of the
deck about three feet from where Cody was lying.
Oh, no! It clearly wasn't ready for prime time yet.
I'm so cute but I'm not quite ready to fly over
the camper and into the trees yet. (5-1-12)
I ushered Cody inside the house before he got too curious, then told
Jim what happened.
We decided we should leave the baby bird on the deck and see if it
would fly off or if one of the parents would somehow rescue it.
I took one more picture of the nest, where only one baby bird was
still visible from below:
That left one bird unaccounted for. I don't know if another one was
hidden in the nest underneath the one I could see or if it had already flown out.
I watched the baby bird on the deck for several minutes as it
skittered about six feet to the corner under its nest, then I went
into another room to get ready to go hiking. Jim kept a watchful eye on
the baby bird.
BIRD IN HAND
When I came back out a few minutes later Jim told me the little bird
had hopped down half of the open wooden deck steps. We both feared it would
either fall several feet or
get eaten or stepped on if it got down to the grass.
I went down the steps below it, gently scooped it up in my hand, and put it
back in the nest. I don't know if that was the right thing to do but it
didn't peck at my hand or fly right out again.
While Cody and I were gone hiking Jim was working outside. He saw one
of the babies in the back yard near the camper and another one on the
driveway next to the flower bed. He left them alone. We hoped a
turtle, snake, gopher, or some other critter didn't eat them.
By the end of the afternoon all the babies were gone from the nest. We crossed
our fingers that all were alive and well and their parents knew where
All gone except the nest and the bird poop (5-1-12)
Jim decided that was a good time to remove the nest and spray down
the walls, soffit, and deck with water. Seven birds left a lot of poop in their
We assumed since the babies were all gone, the nest would remain
BACK FOR MORE?
What happened next was interesting and once again shows how little we know about
A couple days after the baby birds flew the coop we noticed the
parents were back. They appeared confused and distressed. They kept flying up to the
light fixture where the nest had been and began to build another
nest! I don't know if they thought something awful had happened to their
babies*** or if they normally have more than one clutch each spring. Maybe
the parents just wanted the nest for themselves.
I would have thought that we and Cody had traumatized them enough in
the last five weeks that they wouldn't consider building another nest in
the same location.
*** I read that birds will often lay replacement eggs if predators
get any of the first ones they lay. One bird that was studied laid
something like 70 eggs before she finally quit! The folks doing the
experiment kept taking the eggs she'd laid. Poor bird.
TRYING TO OUTWIT THE BIRDS
Since we were leaving
soon we didn't want a bunch of new bird poop all over the deck and house
for the rest of the summer. Jim's solution was to remove the entire
light fixture from the wall so they can't build another nest there.
The birds were even more confused when the whole light was gone!!
Where'd my light and nest go???
Jim left the identical light fixture on the other side of the sliding doors. In the
last few days before we left the birds never showed any interest in it,
probably because it wasn't in as protected a location as the one in the
corner of the deck.
It'll be interesting to see if they build a nest on that other light
fixture while we're gone this summer. Jim may regret not removing that
After the babies flew off I missed having them around. Normally we
put a hummingbird feeder in that corner and watch those amazing
creatures when we're at the house in the spring and fall. We didn't put
it up this time, fearing a turf war with the songbirds.
As territorial as some hummingbirds are, that might not have been
I never did determine with certainty what kind of birds these are. If you know, please
tell us. The closest I could find when I looked at several websites
with dozens of photos of songbirds that live in this area is the Carolina wren.
The neighbor who mows our lawn when we're gone told us last fall
that he saw a gopher run under the front porch several times
when he was there. We were so busy with other things then that
we really didn't investigate before leaving for our winter trip
to the Southwest.
When we got back to the house at the beginning of April Bob
again mentioned the gopher(s).
This time it was really obvious where they'd been tunneling in
the front yard -- their tunnels and holes are much larger
than those made by moles, which also love our yard -- so
we did some research about how to eradicate them. We read about
the structural damage they could do to our house, which
concerned us more than the damage they might be doing to the
green stuff we call a "lawn" out front.
But once again we got busy and kind of forgot about the gophers.
There is a window near my computer desk that gives me a nice
view of the front walkway and little neighborhood road that goes
past our house. One of Cody's beds is under that window.
One day three weeks after we'd been at the house Cody was
sleeping on that bed when he let out a little growl. I looked
out the window, figuring a UPS truck was nearby (for some reason he always
growls at UPS trucks but not FedEx or other types of business
Here's what I saw instead:
A fluffy, well-fed groundhog sitting above a hole under the
Even though I already knew we didn't really want any groundhogs
living so close to our house I admired the handsome critter for
several minutes as it sat watching the house (it could sense my
movements taking pictures through the blinds), then slowly
walked through the perennial bed along the walkway as it found
some morsels to eat.
I called Jim into the room. As he watched the groundhog perched
on the walkway again, stared at the window, and then ambled off:
Actually seeing one of the varmints gave Jim the incentive he
needed to try to discourage it and its family/friends from
living so close to our house.
One of the more humane methods he read about is to put urine
in or near their holes.
out in the country but our front yard and porch are too close to
the roadway for Jim to even consider what you may be
So for about two weeks
he pressed Cody
into service several times a day, letting him pee next to the
gopher holes in the front yard and near the porch. Cody thought
that was a fun game since he'd never been allowed to pee in
those places before. (He also got to dig up moles in the yard
for the first time this spring. Then Jim, um, disposed of
them. We decided it was easier to fill in the holes Cody dug
than to mash down all the mole hills. Cody's quite adept at
finding moles by scent or sound or both.)
Jim filled in most of the gopher holes and kept an eye on them to
see if they were used again. He used a more lethal mixture of
bleach and ammonia in the hole under the porch, since that's
where the critters could do some serious damage to the
foundation of the house.
We didn't see any more groundhogs or groundhog activity near the
house before we left. Hopefully that bunch won't be back any
A GOOD PRACTICAL JOKE
Jim played a funny prank on me about a week after seeing the real groundhog.
I didn't see what
he'd done until several hours later when, frustrated that I
didn't notice his prank yet, he came into the study and said,
"Well, doggone. There's another groundhog!" (or
something to that effect) and pointed out the window.
I looked out and started laughing within about two
Jim had perched Cody's stuffed hedgehog grunty-toy (it grunts,
not squeaks) right where
the groundhog had been sitting above one of its holes the one
and only time I spotted it!
The toy hedgehog was about the same size and color as the real thing, a great
See what I have to put up with sometimes?? (I love it.)
Next entry: more "spring break" fun -- photos from some of our
hikes and bike rides in the Roanoke area
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the ultra Lab
© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil