Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Nesting Box

One year, Linda and Bobby and their dog Alex noticed that their neighbor, Jim, was putting up a nesting box in a tall tree near their property line. When they ambled over to the fence to talk to him about it, he said he was hoping to attract a pair of owls to help keep the squirrels in line. Linda and Bobby agreed that owls would do the neighborhood good.

Well, the first year a pair of woodpeckers came and nested in the nesting box. They were a very industrious pair, building a warm nest and laying eggs and then working hard, hard, hard to find enough insects to feed their young. They would sit on the side of a tree and listen with their very best ears, which are much better than our ears, and they would hear the insects under the bark. Then the woodpeckers would peck rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat at the bark, and drill a neat hole. And there would be the insect! Oh, how wonderful. Then Mama or Papa Woodpecker would grab that insect and fly ever so fast back to the nesting box. When they got to the nest, the babies would all be there with their mouths wide open, screaming"I'm starving!!! Feed me!!! Feed me!!! I need it, I need it, I need it." Then, Mama or Papa Woodpecker would shove that insect in the closest mouth, or in the widest open mouth, or in the loudest mouth, and fly off to find another. All day long (and the days are very long in Fairbanks in summer, when the sun stays up for over 20 hours) they would fly back and forth with insects in their beaks, feeding babies just as fast as ever they could, till they almost dropped with exhaustion. Finally, those babies got just as big as their parents, and then an amazing thing happened -- because the babies were sitting pretty still and being fed, and the parents were hunting and pecking and feeding and flying, the babies got fat and the parents got skinny, and for a while the babies were bigger than the parents. Then the babies learned to fly, and that took so much energy that they lost all that fat and were just the same size as their parents. So, before the short northern summer was over, Linda and Bobby and Alex couldn't tell which woodpeckers were the Mama and Papa and which were the babies. In the fall, they all flew away and winter came with the snow, and the yard was remarkably quiet.

Now, the following year the woodpeckers returned and raised another family, but the third year, just as they were cleaning the old nest out of the box and getting ready to set up housekeeping, along came a pair of kestrels and chased them away. The kestrels built their nest in the nesting box, and laid eggs, and when the eggs hatched they had babies with open mouths to feed. But, kestrels don't sit on trees and listen under bark for insects. No, indeed they don't, for kestrels don't eat insects unless they can't get anything else. Kestrels are small hawks, and they hunt voles. So, that summer the Mama and Papa Kestrel hunted voles through the woods, screeching as they flew to scare the voles. When the voles are scared (or, at least this is what Linda and Granny think happens) they pee as they run for cover. And the kestrels (and this part Linda knows is true) can see a purple line where the voles have peed, just like the woodpeckers can hear the insects under the bark. So, the kestrels follow the line of purple to where the vole is hiding, and wham! Then Mama and Papa Kestrel take the vole back to the nest, where the babies are acting just like the baby woodpeckers, screaming "I'm starving!!! Feed me!!! Feed me!!! I need it, I need it, I need it." And Mama and Papa Kestrel shove that vole at the babies and off they go, to find another. All the long day (and remember, it is a very long day) they work, hunting, flying, feeding. And, just like the baby woodpeckers, the baby kestrels get fatter than the parents. Then they leave the nesting box, and hop from tree branch to tree branch, calling "Here I am! I'm starving! Feed me quickly, quickly, quickly!". And Mama and Papa Kestrel hunt, and hunt, and hunt. They fly to each baby kestrel with a vole in their feet, and stick it on a twig for the baby to eat, and then fly off to find another. And those babies just scream for more and more and more. And they eat every one that they can get. When the baby kestrels are old enough and fat enough they work hard, hard, hard and learn to fly. And then, just like the woodpeckers before them, they are the same size as their parents and Linda and Bobby and Alex can't tell the parents from the babies. After a few more weeks, when the Mama and Papa Kestrel teach the babies how to hunt for voles to feed themselves, they fly off to the warm south, and winter comes, and the yard is all white with snow and quiet again. Then Linda and Bobby and Alex don't sit on the porch any longer, because it is too cold. They light a fire in the living room, and wrap themselves in quilts, and stay warm.


Anvilcloud said...

I continue to appreciate your ability to turn the ordinary into an interesting story that has a certain poignancy to it.

Ginnie said...

Well, I never heard of a vole peeing and somehow it sets up a very sad picture....poor little thing running for it's life and peeing as it goes!
Did the owls never come to roost? Thanks for sharing your imaginative mind with is.

Maya's Granny said...

No, the owls never did come and roost in that nesting box.