Saturday, April 05, 2008

Finches Can't Read

In the last century, bluebirds have suffered an alarming decline in their numbers. Loss of habitat and nesting cavities due to logging, competition from swallows and other species, and the use of pesticides are some of the factors contributing to the decline. Bluebirds were once as numerous as robins!

North Carolinians love their bluebirds and we were no exception. The entire state, it seems, is part of an effort to rebuild the bluebird population. In fact, just about every state has a bluebird society and there is also a national organization as well. Very serious stuff!

The most common way to encourage bluebird population is to provide nesting boxes. When I moved to North Carolina from Florida, I had never seen a bluebird and had no idea what all those wooden boxes were that dotted the rural landscape on fence posts and tree trunks. Once you see a bluebird, you want to see more. Once you see them in courtship, nesting, and fledging their young, it is easy to fall in love forever. They are beautiful, busy animals.

In the piedmont area of North Carolina, a man by the name of Jack Finch started building bluebird boxes in the 1970s. I picked one up during a trip to the Finch family's pottery and blueberry nursery. When I got home, Jon and I excitedly installed it in the yard, staking a surrogate claim for the first bluebird family to find it.

While the house is clearly stamped with "Homes for Bluebirds", finches in North Carolina can't read. Apparently finches also think that bluebird boxes make for great nesting sites and the only way to keep them out is to destroy their nests as they try to build them. Let me repeat that: destroy their nests as they build them.

Now I know that early bird watchers, Audubon included, shot and killed the very birds they studied and illustrated. To a modern bird enthusiast like myself this is abhorrent; although, I guess lacking cameras the only way to get the dern thing still enough to get a good look is to kill it. To me, the thought of destroying a bird nest is enough to send me into a tizzy of personal debate about ethics, the valuation of one animal species versus another, and whether we should intervene with a hand of destruction. The topic of destroying squatting birds' nests has also led to some interesting marital discussions because Jon can read and he is quite certain the box does not say "Homes for insert name of species here". Any intruders must go; he empties out their nests without hesitation or guilt.

So over the years we have had some finches, some swallows, but mostly bluebirds. I have given over our bluebird home property management arm to chance or my husband, whichever intervenes first. After all, Jon has to live with his choices and frankly, he seems to sleep just fine at night. I sleep alright too, and try not to worry too much about whether bluebird karma is worth more than finch karma. Jon gets to follow his moral compass and I follow mine. Fortunately, most of the time they still point North.

I can't help but wonder, though: Where do the presidential candidates stand on a literacy campaign for birds?

Update, April 25th, 2008: Got a voicemail last night from our old neighbors that our bluebird family has relocated to their yard.


Paige said...

So I'm guessing you know that the mountain bluebird is our state bird? They certainly are a treat to see. Especially that burst of blue against a backdrop of sagebrush and the like. I see them quite a bit out in the South Hills (towards Nevada).

jer said...

wrens can't read either, but i can't bring myself to kick them out.

Kate said...

Paige, yepper we did know that! I love to see them.

jer- u sissy!

jer said...

fine then, i'll just douse the whole thing in gas and take a match to it.

but that wren blood is on YOUR hands, can you live with that? CAN YOU!?!?!?!

jer said...

oh and our yard finally looks better than yours.

so nyah, nyah, na nyah nyaahahaha!!!!

Kate said...

LOL--okay so that was Jon calling Jer a sissy using my login. Jeez guys!

Oh and guys don't have to gloat. I got a voicemail from your wife about your yard last night! It's really hard to keep up the yard from thousands of miles away. Give us a break!