Housing for Backyard Fauna Becomes Nuttily Complex

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Perhaps it was the memory of Grandma singing Italian arias to her backyard songbirds, or perhaps it was Papa’s reverence for the wildlife paintings by John James Audubon that inspired my interest in our feathered friends. On the other hand, maybe I’d seen far too many Tweety Bird cartoons as a kid.

Whatever the reason, something spurred me on to make my backyard into a bird-friendly environment. I spent hours reading up on different types of birds, their feeding habits and nesting preferences. I learned that some birds feed on the ground and others high in the tree tops; that some eat berries and seeds and others prefer insects and worms.

My husband and I set out to create the perfect housing complex for our winged visitors. We painstakingly constructed several custom-made birdhouses. We climbed high on ladders and placed the cabins strategically around the backyard. We filled feeders with a variety of millet, sunflower and thistle seeds. We placed containers of nectar throughout the area and set up bird baths and a cascading water fountain.

bird houses on a wooden fence.
Birdhouses in the corner of the backyard.

When we finally finished, we grabbed our binoculars and retreated to our kitchen window vantage point where we could watch and wait … and wait … and wait.

Weeks passed. Spring and summer went by. Still no interest in our boarding houses. Endless waves of waxwings perched daily in our treetops, but they showed no interest in our backyard, except to spatter it with a bombardment of digested black berries.

Gorgeous bluebirds and orioles swooped in and out. Mockingbirds, sparrows and wrens all flew past. They sampled from our feeders, and sipped from our bottles of nectar, leaving behind a mass of droppings and empty shells, but still our luxurious bird condos remained uninhabited.

Through March winds and April rains, year after year, the birds have ignored our vacancy signs. However, I’m pleased to say the houses haven’t gone completely empty all this time.

Our plentiful supply of sunflower seeds and peanuts caught the eye of a fluffy-tailed golden squirrel we named Goldie. The golden squirrel paid our home daily visits, aggressively indulging in the rich black sunflower seeds. Watching the daily antics of Goldie and her pals helped to ease our disappointment at the lack of birdhouse boarders.

Later that spring, I spotted a tiny head popping out from inside our largest birdhouse. Peering through my binoculars, I jumped for joy as I tried to identify the baby bird. It took me a while to realize that we were the landlords of a family–of brown squirrels!

We immediately replenished our feeders with peanuts, dried corn and sunflower seeds. Then we took our front-row seats at the kitchen window to watch the show.

Occasionally, on some mornings, when our squirrel family failed to make an appearance, I felt a profound sense of disappointment, as they had become a welcome sign post of each new day. We were becoming very attached to our backyard boarders, peering at them through our field glasses, and to the three sets of dark eyes that took turns staring back at us.

That summer, our long, warm days were filled with the fun of watching our growing family of acrobats perform their circus antics. These proficient high wire performers danced along tree branches and narrow fence tops. They sprang precariously from rooftops to tree branches, swinging through the air with the greatest of ease.

The most fun for us came when we observed the novice baby squirrels bravely following their mother, Goldie, onto roof tops and tree tops, testing their acrobatic skills. Gray, black and brown squirrels also visit our backyard feeders. But not all of them are as friendly as Goldie, who allows us to fee her by hand.

Squawking scrub jays and quick squirrels visit our verandah, foraging for nuts and dropped seeds among the summer leaves. Scores of bright yellow orioles glide in and out each day to feast at feeders filled with sugar water and thistle seeds, while a small army of squirrels fill their cheeks with our peanut offerings.

One day, after a powerful June wind, I discovered a baby bird had been blown from its nest. The tiny bird appeared to be unharmed and lay wiggling on my back lawn. At that same moment, one of my cats also noticed the young fledgling.

I quickly scooped the little bird into an empty shoe box and placed it safely in our highest birdhouse–a two-story condo with sun deck and southern exposure. I hoped the that the mother bird would hear its baby’s cry and return to feed it. The sun was setting and I knew if the nestling didn’t reunite with its mother soon it had little chance of survival. I watched diligently through my field glasses hoping a blue bird, wren or robin would come for its chick.

Then, just before the sun set, I spotted an inquisitive hummingbird hovering over the birdhouse. A moment later she was tending to her tiny newborn. As the days passed the awkward little bird took on the streamlined features of an iridescent ruby-throated hummer. His beak, which looked average at birth, grew so long it earned him the name Little Pinocchio.

It was with a feeling of pride and trepidation that we watched Little Pinocchio take his first solo flight. We were thrilled when he made it home safely. Eventually, our little boarder left the sanctuary to take his rightful place in the scheme of things. Today, hummingbirds soar in and out of our backyard. We like to believe that Little Pinocchio is among them.

Cookie Curci is an experienced freelance writer, born and raised in San Jose, California. Cookie writes syndicated columns across the country, and wrote a “Remember When” column for The Willow Glen Resident for 15 years. Her work has been published in 15 Chicken Soup for The Soul books, and in the series of “Mother’s Miracle” books ( Morrow books).

She has a short story in the new book “ELVIS”, Live at the Sahara Tahoe; has been published in San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury news, Woman’s World, Primo magazine, Mature Living, and many websites.

Cookie is currently writing for several Italian American newspapers and magazines, they include LaVoce Las Vegas, Amici Journal, L’italo Americano, Life in Italy and Italiansrus.