Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Backyard American Tragedy

Our backyard is something of a wild place. Mostly trees and shrubs, not much grass to speak of. We try to make it a welcoming place for birds. We're not avid birdwatchers, but we do enjoy their songs and activity. We have bird feeders, bird houses and a bird bath within sight of our deck and family room.

We have a fountain on the deck. It's a tall, cylindrical pot which fills with water that spills over the top and splashes down the sides. The birds love it. They are probably attracted to the moving water. More of them visit the fountain than the birdbath.

This spring the backyard has been active. We have cardinals, blue jays, chickadees, titmice, sparrows, doves, woodpeckers, and mockingbirds. A family of sparrows took over the birdhouse closest to the deck. All spring we've been able to watch the activity around it. First the adults flocked to it with nesting material. Then they took up residence. It was obvious they were incubating eggs. Sure enough, a few weeks ago we saw the chicks inside. Now it was active and noisy. The adults made constant forays for food and all the while the babies remained inside, open-beaked and crying. We didn't approach too closely, but from the deck we could see them growing. Soon they would leave the nest.

One evening last week I came home from work and the sparrow's house was empty and silent. When I reached the deck, I saw two birds in the fountain. It was a juvenile sparrow and an adult sparrow floating lifeless on top.

It's easy to figure out what happened. The juvenile left the nest, trying its new wings, exploring its environment. It was probably attracted to the fountain like the other birds, but being inexperienced with water, fell in. The adult, I'm assuming it was the mother, went to the juvenile's aid and drowned. Their posture in death, beak to beak, indicates her desperate attempts to same him.

When I was in college studying psychology, we were cautioned against anthropomorphizing animal behavior. It was unscientific to attribute human motives and emotions to animals. An explanation for the mother's behavior might be that she was merely trying to preserve the survival of her genes. I don't buy that. I think this was an example of maternal love. This mother sacrificed herself to save the offspring she had delivered and nurtured. Sadly, it ended in tragedy.

This story could be fiction, but it's not. It could be a human story. but it's not.  It's a story about an object of beauty that disguises deadly features. It's about the natural curiosity of a youngster that can be dangerous. It's about a strong universal bond between two individuals that drives one to sacrifice his/her life to save the other.

Our backyard is still filled with birds, but the sparrow's house is silent and empty.

Mark Troy
Hawaiian Eye Blog


Jean Henry Mead said...

How very poetic and sad. Your yard sounds as though it's a bird watcher's paradise that will never quite be the same. We've often found dead birds and small animals on our land but never such as you described. It could be a heart wrenching story if you decided to incorporate it in mystery/suspense plot.

Morgan Mandel said...

It's a shame that what brought such joy turned into sorrow.

Morgan Mandel

Earl Staggs said...

How sad, Mark, and I think you're right. I believe basic instincts transcend species and maternal instincts most of all.