Archives for posts with tag: nature

A.V. Walters

Each year we have this same battle. The swallows arrive and want to build their mud-daubed nests under our eaves. I like them; they’re streamlined and beautiful, swooping in elegant arcs over the farm. I don’t fully understand the dynamic, but in their search for nesting sites, they’re attracted most to the protected areas just over our doorways. They’re almost as messy as emus (on a smaller scale) and, as beautiful as they are, I’m not inclined to duck and take cover whenever I enter or leave our home. One minute they’re endearing wildlife, and the next, they’re a strafing, dive-bombing hazard. They can nest anywhere on the farm except over my back door.

Elmer has a soft-hearted farm rule. Tenants are free to dissuade birds from building nests. (And so I’m out there like a maniac waving my arms, shouting, beating on the window and carrying on.) But if a bird pair builds a nest and lays eggs–they get to stay for the duration. We are not allowed to interrupt bird families.

Some years ago, Elmer was asked by some South American scientists if they could run DNA tests on the farm’s summer swallows. The scientists wanted to know if these Two Rock swallows were of the same family as their own Brazilian swallows.  Thrilled to be on the cutting edge of science, and to watch-first hand as the scientists captured, tagged and took blood samples, Elmer was the chief proponent of the Swallow Investigation. Sure enough, the DNA revealed that our summer swallows are the same ones that go all the way to Brazil.

It’s the same with most migratory birds. We think of them as our songbirds, swallows, warblers, hummingbirds or ducks, but really we share them with their winter neighbors. Even our Monarch butterflies are traveling visitors. The alarming part of that is that we cannot protect them. Habitat must be protected across half the globe to make the world safe for our migratory friends. That knowledge came as a shock to Elmer. The world got smaller with that knowledge. Elmer does his part with the nesting rule.

It’s that simple. One chicken farmer can make a difference with a rule, making it possible for the swallows to live and breed on the northern leg of their annual trek. We can decide to save a species by changing our behavior. Last year, Elmer put an owl house in the peak of one of the barns. Swallows, owls, a little information can go a long way to inform our decisions and how we move through the environment.

That doesn’t mean I’m going to let them build a nest over my door, but they are otherwise welcome visitors. They have as much claim to make a home as I do. And if they get ahead of me, build a nest and lay eggs, I’ll just swallow hard, and endure the inconvenience like I do for the emus. When it comes down to it, we’re all immigrants here and we can just make room.

(Oh, except for those noisy mourning doves–I don’t know what to do about them.)

Bird Mysteries

A.V. Walters

Back in May I mentioned a new bird, a raptor that we couldn’t identify. In fact, we suspected a family of them, but couldn’t be sure because we never clearly saw two of them at the same time. He (or she)disappeared for a while but then he/she/they reappeared, in force, in these past few weeks. They had us baffled. Our bird guide, (granted, a very old and confusing tome) didn’t seem to cover this particular bird. He’s clearly a raptor, a hunting bird, but not colored like anything we’d seen before.

Our mystery was finally solved. I met some birders, by chance, during a business meeting. By the end of the meeting I felt comfortable enough to ask if I could send them a photo of our mystery guest—and then, I did just that. The answer came back in minutes (don’t you just love the internet) our bird is (drum roll, please) a white-tailed kite. In fact that’s birds plural, because we’ve discovered we have a bunch of them. (The bird guide we have at home, doesn’t even have a picture of them!)

No sooner did we get the name, than a whole family of them soared over us—four or five in a loose formation. And then a day or so later we spotted another one, a juvenile. (Yup, with a name and the internet, we’re able to confirm them from sight and even know what the babies look like. Forget about your privacy now.) In the five years I’ve lived here, I’ve never seen one of these birds and suddenly we are white-tailed-kite-central! We have enjoyed their company, even though they aren’t going to solve my other bird problem, those troublesome noisy mourning doves. Don’t get me wrong, the kites are entirely beneficial—eating large insects, mice and voles and, we hope, maybe gophers. BUT, they don’t do anything to scare off the darned doves. We’ll have to be content with the fact that they’re lovely to watch and a welcome addition to our farm’s roster.

But wait—all is not lost! There is a new development on the mourning dove front. You may recall that the tone of a mourning dove’s coo drives me crazy. I find it unnerving. Apparently, that’s not uncommon—I regularly get hits from internet searches looking for a solution to those noisy mourning doves. Well, we’ve found a possible solution. It’s funny because the fix was here all along. When I first moved here there was an abandoned, fake owl (with big, plastic eyes) under the balcony. I didn’t think much of it and it’s kicked around from place to place for five years now. Last week Rick came upon it and, with nothing to lose, mounted it on the back railing.

Within a day, Silence. It worked. The mourning doves relocated out of our back yard. (So did the swallows, but it’s worth it.) The doves are still active elsewhere on the farm but they stay clear of the backyard and the top of the house. It’s blissful. Well, it was ‘til today, when a pair decided to check out the front yard—in plain sight of my office. But we have a solution. We’ll just move the faux owl around to keep the fidgety little critters on their toes, and out of earshot. So, for all of you out there yearning for some mourning dove peace, it’s only been about a week but it’s still working.

We do have real owls on the farm, some barn owls and some screech owls. They are a pleasure to watch on an early evening stroll, but they don’t do anything for the doves, because the doves are daytime birds. So, fake owls it is.