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14

Bird Brains

At the Santa Fe River

by Virginia Seacrist

July 7, 2013

They were taking a chance from the beginning, and we notice it.

I'd brought both cats, after all, so that all my sentient beings are with me. This means I can stay as long as I want at my Santa Fe River house. Despite the long, cool spring, lasting almost through April, the heat drives us to the confluence of the Ichetucknee River by mid June. Despite also the frequent and more frequent torrential daily...and even nightly... rains, my animals and I take refuge from 90+ temperatures and equal humidity, at the cooling waters of the clear, blue Ichetucknee.

Besides, if there's a mouse issue, Mama and Baby cats will take care of it. No matter that I can coexist with those furry little creatures who might nest in the dish towel drawer, others eeek and shriek at the sight of a tiny mammal with a long, hairless tail. Somehow if the little furry thing has a cotton tail and longer, pointier ears, or if it has a fluffy long tail, it's OK with just about everyone. Let that tail be fatter, longer, and the face and teeth be pointier, woe is me. So, periodically, I make sure all little furry creatures live outside by bringing the cats.

The wrens nonchalantly flutter in from the deck door and out the kitchen one, the two of them deciding jointly, I can only guess, where their next nest should be. Not based on a study, but on hearsay, I've learned that the male wren builds several nests for his bride to inspect and choose. And my anecdotal experiences show me that the males build quickly. That's why my clothes pin basket, which I hang on the line while my clothes are drying, can have a nest in it before the clothes are dry. Not so smart, they say as they watch a wren build a nest in the gutter, where before they fledge, the little wrenlings can be swallowed whole by the snake that slithers up there.

It's always a question: should we interfere or let nature take its course?

The first morning I walk thorough the dining room, I see a very fat, gray something lying in its own pool of blood, the same place that the other mice have lain...uneaten, I might mention. Not one, but two mice, caught by Baby, I only assume. “She got a really fat one,” I call as I pass, “but she didn't eat it. Might be a r..a..t,” I say as I make a disagreeable face.

Meanwhile, one wren is outside the kitchen on the tree limb, while her mate is flying in, landing on the dragon kite suspended from the ceiling, flitting over to the ledge where trays are displayed above the window. Seems like a good spot for a nest, he might be thinking.

“Shooo. Get outta here,” we advise, leaving the door open for his exit. Mama wren is watching from afar, on the oak tree limb, and chattering while he answers from inside.

Mama Kitty has staked out her territory on the bedroom window sill, behind the shutters, while Baby is more frightened so we haven't found where she's hiding. Not more than following the bird with her big green eyes, Mama doesn't seem very interested in Papa wren.

But something got that thing lying in the dining room, which I finally go to scoop up in a paper towel. “Eeeewhew, it's been eaten a bit since I saw it,” I report. “Oh, no...look,” I hold the towel open under his nose, it's a bunny...a baby bunny. Bad Cat!”

“Don't show me. No. I mean it. I don't what to hear what it is.”

“Pretty little face, tiny, pointed long ears....ahhhh.”

We keep the deck door and the kitchen door closed during the day, while we continue to hear the loud chatter between the potential wren parents. If we forget, he swoops in again, fluttering around, “doggedly” determined? Even hopping under the screen door, the way they can make themselves even smaller.

Still Baby, the huntress, is mysteriously absent in her own hideaway.

Nights with shutters open let in cool river breezes, and we sleep usually until golden light coats tree tops, when cardinal chirps and wren chatter replace hoo hooo ta hoooo...with the day and night underlying, white noise of cicada buzz. We'd opened the doors to allow that air trough to flow through the house all night long, as the narrow passage drags in the cooler air.

It was only silver light yet when her claws rip into my arm. She pounces over the bed in pursuit. Four green eyes widen and it seems team work conspire. I hear only one chirp before I jump up and grab Baby with the little wren in her teeth. I hear Mama Wren chirping outside.

Mama Kitty hops back onto her perch and closes her eyes halfway, the way cats do looking through just slits. I'd rescued a tiny wren from her just the other day in our city back yard. I'd wrapped my small hand totally around its littler body, seeing its claws clenched, appearing crippled, yet feeling the bird's warmth and its eyes alert. Before I could plunge the near-death victim into a protective container, it revived, squirmed, and broke loose from my gentle grasp. Away it flew far above my naughty cat, whose big, green eyes followed.

I know immediately the difference: fatality this time. I look scornfully at Baby, now slinking away. “Bad kitty,” I scold, holding the still warm entity in my hand. These little talons would not perch again. So quickly can life be taken; so fragile is life. I stroke the little feathery creature, his glazed eyes without focus. Still warm, still complete, but with no life. What can I do?

By now the little mate was chirping on the branch outside the kitchen door, saying, no doubt, “Come back to me. Did you start a good nest for us?” She hops back and forth on the big oak branch, scolding, but unaware yet.

Of course birds have enough sense to scold and chirp when they see a cat. Even different species: Blue Jays, Cardinals, Wrens join the chorus letting all know, “Cat's down there. Watch out.” Sometimes, of course you know, they swoop down and buzz the cat, even peck it.

A wren might weight a few ounces, and how much of that is brain? How tiny is that bird brain? Yet, I know that mama wren is waiting for her mate, and I have to tell her the news.

Finally I place the still warm little feathery thing on the banister outside the kitchen door...and wait. Not much time ticks before she flies in to see him. I hide behind the shutter, not quick enough to have grabbed my camera...for proof. You just have to take my word for what she does.

Yes, she flies down, landing just beside him. She walks around his little body, completely around it. She uses whatever senses she has in that little bird brain to figure it out...bobbing her head to...smell? touch? with her beak.

I've seen it before when a cat gets a bird and I leave it for the flock...not just birds of a feather either...to figure it out. Two days in a row they pecked at my bad cat.

It's just a little bird, I know, but I feel really sad seeing the mate examine the corpse, take in death, and then...fly away. Just fly away. What else can she do?

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