Mary Cornelia Brown Murphy

© Copyright 2024 by Mary Cornelia Brown Murphy

Photo by Lance Reis on Unsplash
Photo by Lance Reis on Unsplash

Our home near Nashville was a haven for birds. On a bend in the Cumberland River, it sat across the road from acres of fields and pastures that grew corn and grass for a large herd of black and white milk cows. Trees lined the river bank and all along the road there were shrubs,weeds and wild flowers.

During the years we lived there we were treated to spectacular flocks of Red-winged blackbirds diving down for any left over corn kernels following harvest. Chickadees, Titmice and Purple Finches graced the feeders while Cedar waxwings chirped and argued for berries. Tohwees threw up piles of leaves and Cardinals sang. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers sat on the zinc gutters hammering out mating calls while sweet, silent Doves and Cowbirds sat on the telephone wires. The dipping flight of Pileated woodpeckers and their laughing call, as they used the river as their open highway, was unmistakable. That spring, a Prothonotary Warbler, dressed in dramatic yellow and black was busy gathering bright green moss off of the patio to build its nest.. We would never forget it, or the busy Robins on the lawn all day de-worming to their heart's content, or the music of the Carolina Wrens in the morning light. We set up feeding stations everywhere possible so that we could watch them come and go.

The spring of the year that we decided to move, my husband came to me saying a Carolina Wren was building a nest behind his drill press in the workshop.  He wondered what to do, as he had to use that machine almost every day.  I reassured him that she/he would cease building when they were disturbed. But NO - on it went - a perfectly untidy nest of old leaves, wood shavings, seed fluff and small twigs. Into this, four, cream colored eggs decorated with rusty spots were laid (one per day), dutifully sat upon until hatched.  There they huddled, all four of them, their eyes like blue marbles their skulls sporting a few fine hairs, their bodies nakedly pink. Amber smiles occupied most of their face. The following morning we woke to a zillion, ceaseless chirps only to find the mother on the road, wet and bedraggled and dead. We mourned.

 At the time, there was a 'bird lady' who wrote a column for the Tennessean and through the paper I was able to contact her. What could be done to save them? Similar to a police interrogation, she asked the following questions: 1. Can you leave the nest where it is? 2.Can you reach into it? 3.  Can you heat the nest to around 75’F? We answered 'yes' to the first two and with the help of Barry's high intensity light, adjusted in height and by measuring the temperature with an upside down photographic thermometer, we could say 'yes' to the third.

'Now for the tricky bit', the lady said.. 'You will have to feed them every 15 minutes from dawn to dusk if they are to survive. Here is what you must do: buy a bag of puppy chow pellets, soak them overnight. Using the dead end of a match stick, dig into one puppy chow morsel. Now, hold onto it gently as you poke it down their open mouths. One morsel at a time as long as they beg for more. Take great care not to jam the food in too quickly, too hard or too far down those tiny, delicate, tender throats or you will kill them and not too near or you will choke them to death. . Also, if the male appears, encourage him to feed them too, so that when they fledge he will teach them to fly, something you will never be able to do.  Good luck.' And she was gone. We were on our own.

  OK. Me first. Armed and trembling I faced the task and making less than authentic chirping sound, the four sprung open their mouths, waiting. I fed the first one.  Immediately, it wobbled from side to side, supporting itself as best it could on tiny vestiges of wings. We watched in horror as it flopped about in the awful throes of dying. But NO...it struggled until its bottom was on the edge of the nest and it pooped. 

We carried on, Every 15 minutes we fed them.  Luckily, there was a hole above the workshop (garage) doors and early one morning at feeding time I caught the father wren flying out. We happily gave him the early morning shift.

Gradually, they grew and grew, their amber smiles narrowed, their fluffy wigs disappeared, pin feathers emerged. They stretched their wings, their chirps became more melodious. Until one morning we found an empty nest!  Where were they?  Their father was up in the hole in the door, calling and calling. 

Here and there we discovered mysterious little scrapes in the sawdust around the machines...tiny flight paths where they had landed.  Oh dear, days or weeks could pass until they were strong enough to fly up to the hole and so we opened the doors and out they went.  All four immediately perched, side by side, on the lowest limb of a Christmas tree we had planted in the lawn, then to the privet hedge where I fed them a couple of times.  After that we saw them almost every day perched together here and there in the garden or the trees.  Then, there were only three.

  That January, our two young boys in Alabama with my parents, Barry and I sat before a roaring fire in the stone fireplace while it consumed all the flotsam and jetsam left when the moving van departed around ten o'clock. The fire had made the living room so hot we opened wide the front door. We were exhausted, our heads thrown back on the cushions of the only leftover piece of furniture, an ancient couch that had seen better days.

The night was dark, all the lights were on, it was the middle of January and very cold. There we were, looking up, talking about the future when three birds entered the room, flew around at ceiling height and flew out.  ‘Did you see that?’ we said.

Now, you tell me....what bird chooses a January night to fly into a brightly lit house?  Only a hand-raised wren is my guess.



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