Alongside the path in Blue Oak Meadow, I was startled by a bird that broke out of the grass away from a carefully constructed nest scarcely two feet from me! I had bent over to examine a stone in the grass-grown road, and dropped my walking stick that clanked noisily, scaring the bird from hiding.
It was a Lark Sparrow, and she sat in the oak watching intently what I was doing. Her precious nest was cupped into the dried grasses so cleverly hidden I would never have known it was there if she had not panicked.
In that hallowed home, four white eggs, faintly scrawled with black likeÊ the signature of some famous designer, were nestled in the meadow. Over 80 acres of ungrazed wildland offered thousands of hiding places, but that pair had selected a spot near a slightly used path. Why had they decided on that particular weed clump when they could have chosen anyplace in the world?
Next morning I eagerly walked the path, fully expecting to see my new-found bird friends and their nest, but when I calculated the location, I was shocked to see that a terrible disruption had intruded! The grassy hiding place was trampled, and the beautiful nest torn with two cracked eggs remaining. What had happened? Clearly some creature had discovered the nest. I wondered if the adult had been caught, and why were two eggs missing and two remaining? The trees were deathly quiet and offered no evidence of living birds.
I bent to examine the two remaining eggs. One was intact, and I was compelled to place it gingerly in my handkerchief. The shell was masterfully marked with strange black scrawls like words from some alien world, but alas, the slight crack widened and by the time I got home, it had collapsed in my pocket.
Left behind was a wet sack containing a developing bird, a large dark eye hauntingly poised in the nurturing yolk, intent on seeing its way into the world ... a world it would never know even though the message had been written in its genes.
Tragedy in the meadow! I wondered how many other bird families were being pursued by some predator. It seems so heartless and cruel - yet, life must go on and, to go on, life must feed life. Is it only I who can consider the beauty of the bird and the sorrow of tragedy? There must have been a protest, the sounds of alarm, the flight of escape for the designated pair. Would they attempt to start another family? Predation is an inescapable fact in nature. The beauty of the predator is sustained only by consuming the smaller animals like the beautiful Lark Sparrow.
Perhaps it would have been better for the Lark Sparrow if it could have built its nest in a dense shrub like the jay, but alas!, it has no choice but to build on the ground. The message is written within its being, and it knows no other way. In the thorny buckbrush, it might have escaped the skunk or fox or snake that slinks along the ground in the night.
I thought of the gallinaceous birds like the quail and pheasant that are also destined to nest on the ground, plus their hatchlings must forage in the fields of foliage until they can fly. No remaining in the nest to be fed for two weeks like the Lark Sparrow, but those precocial babes must run away a few minutes after breaking out of the egg! Those tiny thumb-sized tidbits must confront the terrors of that mimic wilderness. It is a wonder enough survive to maintain the species.
The quail babies depend on their camouflage colors for protection - and some well-disciplined qualities of hiding in order to exist. The parents of most birds maintain quietness in the face of nestling danger with mild protest at excessive intrusion. Not so for the noisy killdeers! Anything entering their territory is going to be subjected to a barrage of shrill cries and fluttering displays on the ground as they try to lure the predator in another direction. My ranch-operating nephew claims "those killdeers drive me crazy," as they dash over the field and shriek their cries of crisis!
To everything there is a season...and spring is certainly the season of love, growth ... and death. No wonder a bird flies; it is a way to expend nervous energy and get a bird's eye view of potential peril! It is a miracle that they can even exist and accomplish the miracle of flight!
"Hope is the thing with feathers,
That perches in the soul,
And sings the song without words,
And never stops at all."
© 2000 Rex Burress
April 26, 2000