Home with a View

by Rex Burress

When it comes to homes with a view, birds have the advantage! They have wings and free choices and often have nest sites high in a tree or on a cliff. Humans also have an inherent desire to build homes on hills or overlooking seascapes "for the view," and maybe we get it from the birds. It is not clear yet how much of our evolutionary development is intertwined with other life forms, but a few of our inclinations may be derived from bird rationale.

Around every inhabited valley there is a struggle to keep a portion of ridgetops natural and available as parklike parcels. Sight seekers and building buffs pay big bucks for houses commanding a view of distant ranges as if elevation equates into superior status. Even though a high percentage of home-time is spent indoors attending needs or working visual machines, a view site is considered desirable, and, as in the thought of National Parks being established and available even though a person might visit once in a lifetime, much of the value may be in just knowing the view is there. How comforting it is to also know that a favorite wild niche exists which may be revisited, or that a species has endured a threatened status so we can see it again.

In any event, a pair of Ospreys built a nest with a view down by the Oroville Wildlife Area riverside during the late spring of 2003! Informed as to the location off Pacific Heights Road, I finally found the nest and approached with my 400 mm equipped camera – a nest composed of a huge pile of sticks stacked on top of a telephone pole at the edge of the river! The two parent Ospreys were not happy about my intrusion with a gun-like tripod, and voiced their displeasure as they circled overhead. Finally, one settled on the nest and I got my picture, even though some power lines were evident.

Through binoculars, I watched one of the parents settle back on the nest, its head barely visible as it peeked out of the rubble. It’s difficult to imagine a bird of prey carrying a trailer load of sticks to that pole crossbeam, especially when some hefty cottonwoods with shade grew nearby. I have never seen an Osprey with anything but a fish in its talons, and I wondered if the nest material was actually carried in the foot or mouth. I had more questions than answers about those whitish predators and their activities, but it is certain, they depend on a watery landscape with available fish and build a lofty nest of sticks.

The fish they needed were not only in the river, but a nearby shallow pond was teeming with carp, their sucking mouths probing the shoreline vegetation, an easy target for an Osprey that makes a remarkable plunge to impale a hapless victim. Instant decision-making is necessary to connect with a proper sized fish and hoist it from the water. It is their way of life, as unusual as their modern preference for a power pole view-home.

I thought about the personal choices those birds had made in choosing a nest site and the cooperation in constructing the heap of sticks. With brain waves on a different frequency than the human species, it is difficult even to imagine what their communication exchange involves, or how any bird finds a mate and makes that extensive search for just the right place for a nest. “They know...” “Without knowing they know?” The “know” business was the contention of naturalist John Burroughs, but to succeed in bringing off that pole nest with a magnificent view of the rumbling river leaves plenty of unanswered questions about their way of life. Not only have they built and laid and incubated to couch new life splinters of their gene pool into existence, but they scrutinize their world in the heavens with accelerated senses that puts them in a possible different dimension.

There is not too much difference between that pair of Osprey and some aliens from a distant planet in terms of our understanding not only their mentality and their application of energy to survival, but their initial origin and evolution. We can apply that thought to every bird species we encounter and admire not only their feathered beauty but the wonder of their establishment on planet earth.

I know there are Cliff Swallows clinging to the perilous undersurface of the Table Mountain bridge at Oroville, California, plastering their ingenious dabs of mud onto the concrete to construct an unlikely cavity where the precious eggs can develop. What a view! They can overlook the sparkling waters of the river and gaze off into the distance to mountain ranges of unlimited possibilities. If you’re a bird, you can take off and zoom to the highest peak if you desire, garnering an aerial view of the landscape. What a privilege! No wonder bird watchers devote long hours to witnessing those winged wonders bestowed upon angels.

As I search the woodlands and hills in the Feather River country, where indeed a host of feathered birds exist, I know there are innumerable nests of new-season birds hidden away from my puny observational power. Once in a while I find a robin nest high on a limb, or a Bushtit bag hanging from the boughs of an oak, or certainly the stick nests of the egret in their great rookery by the Afterbay, but most of the clever constructions are hidden. Many birds take to the trees, bluffs, and shrubs for an anchoring site, yet, there are other species of sparrows and meadowlarks that burrow away into the grasses – and Killdeers that favor the stark loneliness of a gravel bar. There is some place for everything! "Every stick, every stone, is some creature’s home."

Those high-flying waterfowl migrants that traverse the wilderness to reach the Arctic tundra attain some remarkable aerial vistas from thousands of feet in the sky, yet settle down on the marshes for some intimacy in the water plant tangles. They have the view of wide open space where they can drift off into the distance whenever the motivation comes. But consider the Wood Duck ... or the Goldeneye ... or the Bfufflehead, that regale the lofty crevices in woody snags as a choice of building. Whether it is a home with a view, or a cavity in the ground, know that the wild creature is free to find its own particular passion. Long live the wild nest-builders!

© 2003 Rex Burress
May 22, 2003