Some of you may remember a previous column I wrote about the Mockingbird, the state bird of Florida. Most of our readers didn’t know the name of the state bird so it was particularly enlightening to share the story of the nest that the female and male built together in my bike basket last Spring. Then came a series of four beautiful blue-green eggs with brown flecks, watching the baby birds hatch, grow and eventually fledge.
Here’s a crazy coincidence this Spring. I have a new bike with a similar color and basket. It’s much easier to ride and safer. Imagine my surprise when I noticed the beginning of a Mockingbird nest in the new bike’s basket! My first thought was that this occurred because the bikes are so similar and that those same birds loved their last Spring’s residence and wanted to lease it again. Uh oh! I don’t want them monopolizing my new bike and make riding it out of the question for a few months, but I’m willing to conduct an experiment that will benefit both of us.
So, I gently took the beginning structure of the nest and placed it carefully in the old bike basket and moved it to the location where the new bike had been parked. To ease their suspicions, I placed some similar sticks on a table close by. Not only did they use some of the donated sticks, but they also kept building! When they were off searching for the perfect sticks, I’d photograph their progress and found some interesting materials they’d used.
The base structure of the nest used thicker sticks placed so they formed a circular pattern for the next layers. As the nest grew, the height raised gradually. About the time it was rounding out for the soft lining, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was a shed snakeskin entwined around the circumference of the nest like a beautiful cushion. As it continued, there were soft, fuzzy flower tops that created a perfect bed for the eggs that were coming soon.
The eggs are laid one at a time and it can take two to three weeks to lay the four that fit the nest space perfectly. Now the waiting begins. The female flies off periodically to find food for herself and the male has disappeared, maybe courting?
Four eggs finally, one at a time and they’re beautiful. Then, four chicks, eyes closed, no feathers, big beaks, and about two weeks later, we can really watch them grow. Even a slight vibration would prompt them to lift up their little shaky heads on delicate, pipe-cleaner, spindly necks hoping it was their turn for a bug meal. And then disaster.
First one nestling disappeared. Then another, and another. The fourth one survived a few more days and even had a few feathers, and then we discovered it hanging out of the nest, but still in the basket, dead.
We speculated on what had happened to the four chicks and had no conclusion. My husband said it was the Blue Jays, who often just kill baby birds, but I hadn’t seen one Blue Jay in our area, ever. I suspected the Crows. They were lurking around and cawing their superiority on a daily basis from close by and always on the alert. We’ll never know, sadly. I think the Crows carried off the little ones and as the last one grew larger and heavier and they couldn’t carry it away, so it was injured in the process and died. Of course, I’m interested in any birder’s opinions that would shed light on this.
Nevertheless, the nest is empty. We’ve gone from four fledglings last year to zero this year. Nature is interesting and I’m sure there’s a balance, but it would sure be more satisfying to know the reasons and understand them.
Recently, another nest was started in the bike basket and stopped. We were disappointed, but there are reasons and, although we don’t know why and what it means, that’s life. Maybe there were too many distractions, too much confusion around them or they found better places to nest, but we’ll always be blessed by the experiences, those positive and those full of sadness, to understand and appreciate the world of nature just a little bit more.