Su Lum: Slumming |

Su Lum: Slumming

Su Lum
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

This winter, magpies pulled apart the nest of a pair of finches who raised a family under the eaves of my back porch last spring, and I am torn between tossing the remains into the trash and leaving them where they now lie, to be salvaged, recycled and rebuilt by more finches.

Spring arrived unseasonably early this year and there’s been a whole lot of tweeting going on in the back yard. I’m no birder, so I don’t know if they are the tweets of finches, much less if they are MY finches coming home to roost once again, or if birds ever recycle old nests, but the thought of another finch experience makes my blood run cold.

Mama and Daddy finch worked like hell on their nest for weeks, zipping full-speed into the small space below the eaves carrying bits of wool, twigs and twine in their beaks. Mama was a mousy gray; Daddy was easily recognizable by his bright red head, and they were paragons of industry, creating their condo while my dachshund puppies, Nicky and Freddie, went insane below.

When we heard the first faint peepings of their progeny, new house rules were initiated. Up went the dog door with its egress to the back porch; the puppies were relegated to supervised outings from the front door, taking umbrage with their confinement. The back door could no longer be left open to catch the breezes and social events on the back porch were out of the question lest visitors disturb the finches.

The cat who lives next door prowled along the fence, jumped upon my roof and, more than once, crept to the edge of the eaves, raking his claws underneath hoping for a catch. Tragedy by dachshund or feline was a breath away.

My friend Hilary held a camera over her head and snapped a photograph. There were five babies in the nest. FIVE in a nest no more than four inches in diameter, bits of fluff and tufts, beaks wide open, five bottomless pits peeping “Feed me!” like Audrey the plant in “Little Shop of Horrors” (or members of task forces with provisions cut off).

And then Mama disappeared.

When I was a teenager, a nest of orioles was attacked by a blue jay, dashing three naked babies onto the lawn while their parents screamed overhead. We raised them to maturity, named them Tom, Dick and Harry, and just when they were about to migrate the neighbor’s dog killed Dick and Harry during a rainstorm when their feathers were too wet for them to fly. Tom, always the strongest, lived to fly south and returned the following two springs, chirping at us from low branches, building a nest in the same place in the maple tree. A happy ending of sorts, but it was a bird experience that had scarred me for life. (Harry, still alive, in the warm oven, my mother trying to revive him with a drop of whiskey.)

Daddy finch was going crazy, taking over both the paternal and maternal duties of feeding and protecting his charges, then having to show them how to leave the nest.

One early morning, a few days after Mama disappeared, I found Freddie snuffling at something on my bedroom rug. It was a dead bird. Was it Mama, or one of the five fledglings? Had a dachshund killed it, or the cat? Fly away, little birdies, and please don’t come back because I can’t stand it.

The finale was a three-day period when the babies (I couldn’t tell how many) were staggering and tottering on the lawn, the cat pacing on the fence, Daddy bird at the other end of the fence screaming instructions (“Run into the rhubarb patch,” I guess, since that’s what they did) and the puppies in full cry at the blocked dog door.

And then it was over. Whoever survived disappeared, flew away ” just like that.

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