By Patrick Whitehurst

Remorse. Sadness. Regret.

These were my resounding thoughts after setting up a bird paradise in the backyard of our home. Bird baths, seeds and mealworm (not to mention hummingbird feeders) are stationed everywhere.

And the birds came. Did they ever. Only I wasn’t ready for the tragedy.
I don’t mean the inevitable cooper’s hawks. Nor the snake, which we promptly showed the back exit, but the baby season. Baby season in Tucson is an explosion of life, of young creatures with no idea how to navigate the world’s dangers. I’ll share a brief recap of recent events.
We celebrated the season of nests and eggs and were lucky enough to observe a cardinal home right outside the living room window. Two trees across the yard a nest full of cactus wren babies could be seen.

But it quickly turned tragic when they fledged, for one of the babies anyway. Two cardinal babies disappeared into the nearby trees, chased by mom and dad. A few days later, just under that nest, we spied a third baby cardinal on the ground near the base of the tree. Too small to be there, feathered a bit, and not pink. Mom and dad cardinal brought it food, so we made the decision to leave it be. The next day it was still there. We then talked to an expert at Wild Birds Unlimited and were told to either leave it be, place it low in a tree, or maybe even stick it back in the nest. Being that it was in a high traffic area for landscapers, cats, and other birds, we opted to put it on a branch in the nest tree. Here is where it gets sad. We found it dead upon arriving home. And a day later we found the dad dead as well. His red feathered body lay within inches of where his baby had died.

This sent the household into mourning. Of course, we have no idea of the turn of events that led to the two deaths. We decided to press on with feedings and bird baths to honor the two cardinals. It was the proximity to these resources that brought the birds to our yard in the first place.

Two days later another fledgling appeared in the backyard bird sanctuary. This one, a house finch, could fly in small bursts, but not enough to leap high into the trees or even over the walls around the yard. We watched it that whole morning, checking every hour, but overall leaving it be. At noon, it was found drowned in the fountain. This led to another call to Wild Birds Unlimited. At this point I was ready to close the doors, empty the feeders, and leave the birds to nature.

Only I was convinced to remain “open” for the wild birds of the neighborhood. Thanks to their assistance, we decided to keep offering that which brings happiness to both us and the wild birds. Death is an inevitable consequence of life but making that life richer is within everyone’s power.

However, we learned a few lessons.
Fast action is important if you see a baby bird that seems out of place. Observe and take charge if needed or simply let nature take its course, but that last part comes with strong nerves. With fountains, we learned a bird can drown in two inches of water if there are no paths to escape. With our fountain, not designed to water birds I might add, we made it feather safe by placing stones in the pool at the bottom. This allows the birds to hop at the surface. Thankfully, we have had no tragedies since.

The fledglings, from the cardinals and cactus wrens to a slew of house finches, continued well into June. We’re thankful to see them every day and grateful to the ones who didn’t make it for instructing us on how to make our paradise safer for Tucson’s birds. We might not be able to bring back Poppa, Baby Joseph, and Little Man, but they are not forgotten.

And I may still be a bit nervous about next year’s baby season, but I know what to expect.

If ever in doubt, I recommend talking with the brains at Wild Birds Unlimited, located on Tanque Verde. They helped us in our time of avian need and for that we are in their debt.

Patrick Whitehurst has worked in journalism and communications for over 15 years. He’s the author of the book, “Haunted Monterey County” and the forthcoming book, “Murder and Mayhem in Tucson” due out on September 27th, 2021.

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