"We have babies!" I told my husband when I phoned him at work two weeks ago. "It looks like there are two, and they are really tiny but also very hungry."
He didn't panic; he knew I was talking about the birds nesting in our backyard.
Two years ago I was quite excited because we had three different bird nests around my house, each filled with a mourning dove mother and her offspring. I was convinced that there must have been a sign atop my roof that read: "Free rent, good neighborhood, small dog will not bother your kids."
One mourning dove nested in the planter next to the family room window. Since my geraniums shared the planter, I got to know the bird and her children quite well. We reached the point where she would not fly away when I watered the flowers; one day she even let me touch her tail. (Yes, wow!)
I remember when the mourning doves flew from the nest one evening: I was so surprised that these young chicks, who had never left the confines of the planter, could actually just fly away. Their walking capabilities were not as adroit. One chick ambled on my deck, fell flat on her face, but quickly recovered after a few wing flaps. As they were leaving, the family flew in front of me as if to say, "Thanks!"
Last year my house went without a single nest. Nary a mourning dove or anything else with wings except flies.
By September I decided to plan ahead. I bought a two-holed birdhouse, painted it red with green trim and a copper-colored roof, and nailed it to my house just outside the family room window.
This spring several birds came to look at it. Some just visited, but one couple decided to move in. They stayed all of a day and then left. I think my walking on the deck scared them off.
The birdhouse remained vacant until about three-and-a-half weeks ago. It was a Saturday morning and two small wrens came to inspect it. Pretty soon they were bringing in dried grass and small twigs. If one was busy dropping a twig into the birdhouse, the other would sit on the deck chair and wait. The female seemed to spend a lot more time inside the house arranging the twigs (nothing new there); the male was more into physical activity -- getting the twigs.
Sometimes the male couldn't quite figure out how to get a long twig through the small hole. Instead of turning his head to allow the twig to drop in, he kept pushing the wide twig against the hole (so typically male, brute strength at work). Finally the twig broke, fell on the deck; the bird flew down, picked up the twigs one by one, and dropped them through the hole.
Once settled in, the birds had their morning and evening rituals. He would usually arrive around 7:30 a.m. and either bring her breakfast or the two of them would go out for their morning meal. Around 6 p.m., he would arrive for dinner and they would fly out, checking on the eggs frequently.
Occasionally he would come by with a special bug. One time she was away, presumably on an errand; he walked around the deck, bug in mouth, eager for her to return. After about four minutes of fruitless waiting, he ate the bug himself.
At first we were afraid to sit outside. But one sunny morning my husband read the morning paper on the deck, and soon discovered one of the birds walking around, staring up at him. They got used to us, and we to them. I worried if an evening hour went by without any nest activity.
Two weeks ago on a Friday morning I noticed a bit of frenzy outside. The female bird was flying in and out of the birdhouse. When she was momentarily away, I peeked in and saw two birds, about a half-inch long, with tiny beaks. That's what prompted the "We have babies" phone call.
All day long she brought little moving things to her kids. I learned that house wrens' diets consist of such goodies as caterpillars, flies, aphids, spiders, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets and moths.
House wrens mate with the male fluttering through the air, singing all the time to the female. Hey guys, how sweet! During the months of April through July, as many as five to seven oval eggs are laid, which are a pale pink color and speckled brown.
Incubation is by the female, and only 13 to 14 days. The mourning dove females have their mates trained better -- the males watch during the day, the females at night.
One evening both parents were rushing to and fro, bringing food to their youngsters. We were sitting at the deck watching them. Suddenly they got their signals crossed and both flew into the same birdhouse hole at the same time. They dropped to the deck and walked around, squawking at each other. I am sure she was telling him, "Couldn't you see me coming?"
I have named the young wrens Willie and Wendy (last name, I decided, is Wrenn; this is Palo Alto) -- although it's almost impossible to distinguish the male from the female.
The young wrens leave 13 to 17 days after hatching so I figure I have just a day or so left to enjoy them. We will soon be -- literally and figuratively -- empty nesters.