Love on the Cheep



Summer seems to be here, finally, and the birds are celebrating. Which is to say, they’re making bird babies.

When I moved to Ipswich from Arizona, I had to adjust to a whole new array of bird types. In the desert, we were limited mostly to roadrunners (“Meep meep!”) and a few haggard owls. A family of nervous quail squirted through our neighborhood from time to time. Occasionally you’d see a V of geese winging their way overhead — declining to touch down in our barren wasteland.

And of course, there were buzzards. You can’t have a desert without buzzards. The buzzards are a necessity in the ecological system of the desert, because when you have hellish blast-furnace heat and rivers gushing with dust, living things die. (Even lizards need at least a little H2O.) So you need buzzards to carry off the carcasses. As a creature enters the final moments of thirsting to death, the buzzards’ natural sonar picks up on the torturous, rasping death-rattle, and they soon swoop in to perform their selfless service: carrion carry-out.

We also had woodpeckers. A desert woodpecker likes to tap a hole in a prickly saguaro cactus and excavate a romantic hideaway among the spines. Woodpeckers have questionable taste in real estate.

Here in Ipswich, however, we do not have a desert, or cacti, or shriveled armadillos straggling across the sand pleading, in a raspy whisper, “Water! Water!” We have plenty of water here, and temperate temperatures — in short, we have normal, reasonable weather. Along with this comes normal, reasonable bird life.

And from what I’m seeing in my backyard this season, the birds totally understand the birds and the bees.

My eldest daughter gave us an ornamental birdhouse that looks like a lighthouse, and we hung it from the branch of our crabapple tree. Someone failed to notify the birds, however, that it was only ornamental. It has been commandeered, and now appears to be a bluebird bordello.

We also have an even smaller ornamental birdhouse — it looks like a tiny gingerbread house — hanging next to a birdfeeder. It seems that a pair of chickadees, just about the only species small enough to squeeze through that tiny little entryway, took to trysting in it. In their passion, they apparently neglected birdie birth control, because they now have a gingerbread house full of little chickadee chicks.

A bossy English sparrow comes around most days. I think he’s grumpy that he hasn’t found love, but no wonder he’s unattached: He’s a bird of unsavory character, with distinctly voyeuristic tendencies. He lurks around the gingerbread house by the hour, until the boy-chickadee finally emerges to take on the intruder. The girl-chickadee must be very impressed by her man, since he’s barely half the size of the sparrow, yet he fearlessly darts at the beast, beak-first, and always wins.

A pair of cardinals are too dignified for all this depravity. They have made their nest in a tree on the edge of our property, well out of sight. Cardinals do not carouse. They don’t even like to be seen smooching.

I’m OK with all this fluttery fun. I’m just not OK with the woodpeckers. A woodpecker should know its place, and its place is in a hole in a cactus in the Great Sonoran Desert. Its place is not in my backyard, showing off for his girlfriend at six in the morning by jackhammering a hole in the side of my garage. I told you woodpeckers have questionable taste in real estate.

As many times as I’ve yelled at him to stop, he still persists. It’s clear to me that he doesn’t speak English. I don’t think he and his feathered floozy are from around here. I realize it’s politically incorrect to call him an illegal alien — but I feel certain he’s pecking without papers.


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