Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Loony Junco

He was at it again. Time after time after time he fluttered up and down near my husband’s shop window. After resting briefly in the nearby evergreen, he attacked the window until it was streaked with wing-marks and he was exhausted. We grew tired just watching him and dubbed him the “loony” Junco. The reason for his behavior remained a mystery to us, just as the reason for his eventually stopping.

Glenn and Martha Vargas © California Academy of Sciences

One morning, some weeks later, I awakened to a tapping at the bedroom window. By the time I woke up enough to look, whatever had caused it was gone. The next morning I heard it again, this time at the other window. I was definitely reminded of Poe’s raven, although this sound was so slight I seriously doubted it was caused by one of those birds. By the third morning, I was expecting it and was not so surprised to see a small bird racing back and forth in the window box tapping at his own reflection. And guess who?
Dr. Lloyd Glenn Ingles © California Academy of Sciences

(When they see their own reflection in your window, they assume they're seeing a competitor and attack the image... Fortunately, this behavior usually dissipates within a few days or, at most, weeks. But while it lasts, the bird may exhaust or even hurt itself, and it distracts the bird from far more important activities. And this behavior can be extremely annoying for the people witnessing it. - The Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

Thus developed a sort of game between the two of us. He soon preferred one window, so I would sometimes stand inside so that he would see me as he fluttered close. My presence temporarily interrupted his routine, causing him to fly off to tree branch, chirping & twitching about anxiously. It didn’t deter him for long though, and he’d soon be back “patrolling” the window. The arrival of a second bird, grass in beak, caused me to take a closer look. Sure enough, wedged in between the begonia and lobelia, not three inches from the glass, a small nest was taking shape. It seemed we were all winners this time.

For the next few weeks we were honored with the presence of this bird family. They allowed us to “peek out” as they completed the nest, laid, incubated, and hatched four tiny eggs. The frenzy of defending territory became the frenzy of keeping four mouths full - both parents coming and going constantly.

Dr. Lloyd Glenn Ingles © California Academy of Sciences

All too soon we noticed one small fledgling had abandoned the nest and huddled next to the glass. Within an hour, two others had joined it. The parents, chirping their concern, continued to feed and nurture these bold ones, while remembering the last one, still clinging to his security within the nest. Another hour (or more?) passed. The three had worked their way to the far edge of the window box. Then, without apparent warning, the last one struggled to the rim of the nest, took a running leap to the dirt and raced right off the end of the box, spreading his pin-feathered wings as he went. In swift succession the others joined him, all swooping down and up to most-ungraceful landings in the maple tree. The parents fluttered about, checking on each one. By the next day, none of them was anywhere to be seen.

I have to admit that I was not prepared for the emptiness I suddenly felt as those babes took their flying leap into the world. I will never know, of course, which one - if any - it will be this year. But I look forward to seeing a “loony” Junco fluttering wildly against a window. 

How precious is thy steadfast love, O God!
The children of men take refuge
in the shadow of thy wings.
Psalms 36.7

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