In my mother’s later years she enjoyed birdhouses. This trend all started when my husband and I bought her a bird house one year for Mother’s Day. This bird house was designed to look like a miniature log cabin, complete with front porch steps and all. My mother debated on where to hang her new treasure, and finally decided on the perfect spot. Right outside her back door, hanging from her carport. Being the so-called “animal expert” in the family, I informed her this would never work. No bird in their right mind would EVER move into this house as it was just obviously too close to the back door, and her coming in and out of the door would scare any SANE bird away. Let’s just say my knowledge in avian behavior undoubtedly has some room for improvement. Within hours of my husband hanging it, birds were fighting over this house. Yes, literally fighting! My mother called me to give me a report of the fights, who the victors were, move-in day and the nest-building ventures. I’ll also never forget the phone call of her giving me a play-by-play of the new wren tenants “breeding activities” she was witnessing first hand right outside the newly purchased real estate property. My mother’s own words: “I’ve never seen so much bird sex in all my life!” She was cracking me up. I think she may have even apologized to the next door neighbors for all the bird porn going on right there on her back porch for all to see. Apparently the wrens were “doing it” on the banister railing, on the roof of their log cabin, on the porch of their log cabin, on my mother’s nearby hanging flower pots, and anywhere else they could find to “procreate.” Next came the egg laying (this really excited my mother), and then finally, the sounds of hungry baby wrens. Occasionally we witnessed hungry wide open little wren beaks poking out the entryway of the bird house (the babies often mistook our coming up the steps as the sound of their parents returning with food). My mother was fascinated watching the new bird family and the busyness of both parents working diligently from dawn until dusk to feed the new mouths in the family. My mother stood for long periods of time at her back door watching the bird activity.
My mother enjoyed this “cabin” bird house so much, and it provided many happy hours of entertainment for her in her later years. When one bird family raised their little ones and left the cabin, the whole cycle would start all over for my mother’s viewing enjoyment – the fights, the nest-building, the bird sex, the egg laying, and then the sounds of hungry babies and the daylong coming and going of both bird parents in feeding the new babies. My mother loved watching all of it. We all did. Well, o.k., not so much the bird sex, but the rest of it…. yeah. The next spring, my husband and I purchased another bird house for her. This house was a little plainer. Again, my mother debated on where to hang her new house. She decided she would hang it a few feet down from cabin #1 right on the edge of the carport. I kept my mouth shut and didn’t contribute my two cents this time. After all, I had shamefully let it be known how much I knew about avian husbandry. There were several interested tenants and lots of fighting, but it seemed a decision could not be reached and my mother worried that this particular house would not have occupants. But after a while, a couple of house sparrows moved in. After the “cabin wren shenanigans”, we just didn’t think life could get anymore exciting in the way of our new hobby of bird watching. How wrong we were. To say that this male sparrow vigorously defended his nesting site would be an understatement. My mother came home from the grocery store one day and parked her car on the driveway beside the carport a little too close to Mr. House Sparrow’s new property. He jumped up on the roof of his house and proceeded to (in my mother’s own words) “cuss her out.” The whole time she was carrying her groceries into the house, he was jumping up and down on the roof of his house squawking loudly at my mother. After about ten minutes of this, my mother stopped, put her hands on her hips, looked up at him, and loudly proclaimed, “NOW LISTEN YOU!” I LIVE HERE AND I WILL PARK MY CAR WHERE I WANT!” Yes, my mother was arguing with a bird. I guess the neighbors either thought she had finally lost her mind or they found it extremely amusing. My mother soon named this bird “Fiddler on the Roof” which she later shortened to “The Fiddler.” The Fiddler would ALWAYS let her know if she parked too close to his house and he would raise a ruckus if any bird landed too close to his house. He was a very grumpy individual indeed. He wasn’t scared of anything. Besides my mother, he chased mockingbirds away, dogs, etc. Nobody messed with the fiddler. Yep, my mother had many an argument with that bird.
My husband and I just had to push our luck and while out one day, we saw an adorable red barn bird house with a rustic metal roof. We knew the second we saw it, that it would become my mother’s third bird house. We hung this bird house at the end of the carport, on the same side as “The Fiddler’s” house but several feet away. So on one side of the carport we had three birdhouses in a row. One near the back porch end, then the Fiddler’s house in the middle and at the opposite far end, the red barn house. In the many years that the barn house hung there, I don’t think any bird ever took up residence in it which saddened my mother. There were a few viewings, but never an occupancy. We never knew why no bird took a liking to this house. Maybe the metal roof made it much too hot inside. Maybe “The Fiddler” ran everyone away with his grumpiness. My husband even thought perhaps the hole or entryway was too small and so he enlarged it, to no avail. It’s a mystery to this day.
At the same time we purchased the red barn house, I decided to get in on the fun and my husband purchased a bright orange University of Tennessee bird house (my alma mater…. GO VOLS!) for my birthday. I hung it right outside my kitchen window in a red maple tree. For years, no bird family ever looked at the darn house much less moved in. Someone told me it was the gaudy orange color…. OBVIOUSLY not a UT fan). FINALLY, after many years, I was excited to notice a family of sparrows had moved in and eggs had been laid. But a chicken snake took care of that family and their eggs within days (and yes, I was unfortunate enough to “catch” the snake right in the middle of his brutal, savage act). That has been many years ago and no birds have shown any interest in that house again. Maybe it really is the bright orange paint…. who knows.
My mother passed away four years ago. I inherited both the cabin bird house and the “Fiddler on the Roof’s” house. The middle sister inherited the red rustic barn house, and she reports still, to this day, that it is unoccupied. I was excited to see a few weeks ago, that I now have my own “Fiddler on the Roof” sparrow who has occupied the house which is hanging in the red maple tree next to the UT bird house. And he is just as grumpy as my “mother’s Fiddler.” He yells and squawks too. I even witnessed him yelling at a hawk who has frequented our yard lately. Yep, I think it will be an entertaining spring around here.
These birdhouses taught me that sometimes it’s the simplest things in life that give us the most joy. It’s often the things we least expect that bring gladness and good humor to our hearts. I am forever grateful that my mother found so much happiness in her later years of bird watching. At a time when cancer was the focal point of her life, these bird houses were a pleasant and greatly needed diversion for her. She was still able to learn from life and laugh at life. Now when I walk out on the deck to put something in the recycling bin, I get yelled at from “my fiddler” who is standing on his roof looking very annoyed at me for getting too close to his house. And I know my mother is smiling down from heaven.