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A Close Up Look at One of Nature’s Miracles

By Columnist Carl Langley

web posted May 29, 2007
GUEST COLUMN – Several years ago on a Saturday morning my wife and I loaded up some household throwaways and headed for one of Aiken County’s recycling centers.

 We drove into the center, pulled up to a huge bin and tossed away what once had been treasured items. We got back in the station wagon and started to pull away when my wife said, “Hold on a minute.”

 Her eye had caught a large brown gourd hanging on a fence. Someone had pierced the neck of the gourd with an ice pick and inserted a thin piece of wire, making it suitable for hanging.

 The previous owner apparently had grown tired of the gourd, took it to the landfill and, probably hesitant at the last moment to throw it in a garbage bin, hung it on the fence for some future owner.

 “Perhaps a bird could nest in that gourd,” my wife said after taking it off the fence and putting it in the station wagon. So we brought it home and hung it from the limb of a large tree beside a brick wall on the south side of our yard.

 There the gourd hung year after year, waiting for a bird to put it to use. I was about to give up hope but wishes do come true. On Memorial Day, while working in the yard, I saw a flash of wings at the gourd. A little bird zipped past my eye and flew over the back wall. It was a Carolina wren, our state bird and one of nature's feathered treasures.

  A close inspection showed that after some eight years a little wren had found the gourd and decided to make use of it. I waited until she left on one of many foraging trips and peeped into the entrance hole, which was about the size of a silver dollar.

 Inside the gourd was one of nature’s marvels. My eyes scanned a well constructed nest. It was a home within a home. The outer walls of the nest ran from one side of the big gourd to the other and formed a large cup. Inside the cup were at least six and perhaps eight baby wrens.

 Because I work in the yard each day, watering, fertilizing, planting flowers and rooting out weeds, I was familiar with the busy little wren I had seen hopping back and forth across the driveway. I also noticed she waited patiently for the watering to start. The flow of water puts insects on the move and the wren stayed busy picking them off and flying away. But I never paid any attention to where she went until late in the afternoon on Memorial Day.

 I took down a large bird feeder I had hung in the tree near the gourd, fearful that heavy traffic could make her nervous. A pair of cardinals, some sparrows and some finches are frequent visitors to the feeder and doves like to gather on the ground below the feeder to pick up the scraps.

 After looking into the nest I realized I am now going to become a grandparent again. I expect the wren babies will be out of the nest sometime within the next week and they will be on their own, never to depend on their mother again. In the natural ord there are no social care programs.

 While I am pleased to find the gourd being used, it is not the first time wrens have blessed us with a new family. Three years ago, in what was the boldest bit of nest building I ever saw, a wren came onto our back porch and nested in a large plastic bag.

 The bag was hung right outside the back door and was used to store excess bags brought home from the supermarket. I had not used the bag for about a week and one afternoon, after returning from a shopping trip, I went out on the porch to stuff some bags in the storage bag.

 When I turned it to one side to find the opening, I noticed a large large pile of leaves in the container bag. I couldn’t figure out why the leaves were there and started to pull them out when I noticed they formed a long tunnel running down to the bottom of the bag.

 Curious, I slowly pulled the bag open and at the bottom of the tunnel were several yellow beaks with mouths agape. I realized immediately it was a wren nest and very quietly and carefully left the bag. I got back into the kitchen just as a wren flew onto the porch with a food delivery.

 For several days I kept watch on the bag through a kitchen window and then one morning the porch was swarming with wren babies. They were flying back and forth before heading out the open door. I called for my wife to come and witness the miracle. We counted them as they left and a dozen flew outside the porch, one after the other. Out on the porch railing two wrens, the mother and father, were speaking to them.

 When the 12th one flew away, I gave a sigh of relief and walked out onto the porch. My dog Lucy went with me and we stood there watching wrens flying in and out of the bamboo or clinging to a fence before taking off across the yard.

 I thought it was all over. But suddenly Lucy began wagging her tail in excitement. She was sniffing a crevice behind a small refrigerator we kept on the porch. Something had gotten her attention. I walked over, leaned across the refrigerator and looked down.

 There on the floor, in the space between the refrigerator and wall, sat another baby wren, frightened and confused. I put Lucy back in the kitchen and gently prodded the baby out with a broom handle. I scooped up the squawking bird and walked off the porch while the parents scolded me.

 I opened my hand and away the baby flew. He or she got up into the bamboo, perched on a branch and gave me a loud lecture. I gave him a goodbye wave and off he went, to the shelter of a large fig bush.

 I went back into the kitchen, sat at a table with my wife and we discussed the beauty of that we had just witnessed. We had provided two little wrens a safe place to raise a family, and they had blessed us with one of nature’s most enduring miracles.

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