Birds’ nests fascinate me. They are so skillfully made, custom fit for each bird, large or small, so carefully situated. Whether a house wren who feels safe cozying near humans or an osprey constructing its penthouse dwelling above all the bustle, birds make their homes to suit their very different needs and preferences.
As children, we were elated when any of us found a Carolina wren’s nest, a neat little cave hidden amongst leaf mulch under low huckleberry bushes. At our dear old place we called “Lane of Palms” I’ve observed with wonder a mourning dove pair build a house of sticks on a palm tree branch. From a north window I could see them walk nimbly up and down that palm frond “ramp” and then teach their offspring to do the same.
A major concern for a bird’s choice of nesting place has to be security. But sometimes, in the interest of beauty, convenience, or romantic location, they choose to build in highly insecure places. Like the wren who built her nest in our door wreath one year.
It was a very pretty wreath for ushering in Spring. A few yellow forsythia sprays were wound into a coil of grapevine. There were three bird house fronts, each a different size and style, with a bright angle of roof and a perfect round hole for a bird to fly in and take possession. But they were false houses, just decorated cut-outs fastened on the wreath.
One day when I went out to sweep cobwebs out of the corners of the front porch, a little brown wren swished past my face. At first I thought she was building a nest in a nearby shrub. But it didn’t take long to realize she had chosen one of those false birdhouses for her home! While she was out choosing fine twigs and grasses for her nest I peered behind the wreath. There was no room for a nest, yet she was building it anyway. I was amazed it was clinging in place, so precarious it was. One vigorous swing of the door and it would fall. I warned everyone in the family about our new “renter” and we agreed not to use the front door until the babies hatched and flew. We did slip up the front steps a few times just to peer in at the eggs and then the babies.
My daughter-in-law, Christi Graham, gave me frequent enthusiastic reports on a cardinal pair who constructed their nest on a limb right outside her kitchen window. The human family could enjoy the development of the cardinal family in full view.
Sadly, some of the nests in the safest places are the ones ravaged by an enemy. One spring a house wren built her nest on a high shelf in our barn. We thought it was a pretty smart location for her until one day we found the nest demolished, nothing left but a few eggshells. We deducted that one of our cats had leaped to that high shelf and made a meal.
I am reminded, thinking about those feathered parents, of how hard we try to keep our young safe. Yet we and they make unwise choices sometimes. The world is full of unkindness as aggressive as a leaping cat, and horrible things do happen. Snakes take advantage of secluded nests, hawks attack fledglings, storms throw nest, babies, and all out of their safe place. There is no total safety this side of heaven for any of us. But–we can look back and recognize many, many times when God protected us in our foolishness, as we did the wren on our door. We can trust that, just as He knows where each mourning dove and every cardinal makes its home, He also knows exactly where we are, what dangers we face, and what are the longings of our hearts.
I love Sidney Lanier’s poem “Marshes of Glynn.” He writes: “As the marsh-hen secretly builds on the watery sod, Behold I will build me a nest on the greatness of God: I will fly in the greatness of God as the marsh-hen flies In the freedom that fills all the space ‘twixt the marsh and the skies.”