I love birds. I know I’m not the first person to like them, but they really mesmerize me.
My wife and I have had two bird families adorn our backyard in the last few years. Two years ago, a chickadee family moved in, although I never caught their names. We put up what was supposed to be a wren house, and darned if the chickadees didn’t move in. First there were two adults, and because birds don’t nest without babies, soon there were little chickadees inside the house.
We could only hear the birds for the first week or so, because the adults were on nonstop food and shelter duty, flying around and bringing back first nest material, then food. When they flew into the birdhouse, we heard the loudest and highest pitched squealing from the babies as they delighted in the deliveries.
After a week or so, we started seeing the babies, as they were big enough to put their faces in the entry hole. They were hilariously cute, and got louder and with lower pitched shrieking by the day. Whenever I would get home from work, I went right out to the backyard and while keeping my distance, just sit and watch them.
I knew the chickadees would move out soon enough, but the day I came home and the backyard was quiet, and the house was empty, I felt so bad. Of course, I was really excited that the babies were now out and about, but they weren’t coming back, and it really created a sad vacuum.
When I saw chickadees around the yard, I wondered if it was them. Did they stick around, or did they move to another area? I think birds and all animals are way smarter than we think, and I wondered if they remembered me.
So, I moped around for a few days, comforted by my wife, who seemed to be taking it better than I was. She has much more experience with birds, and I think this explained her more mature approach.
Life went on. Last summer came and went with no return of birds to any of our bird houses. We have a bunch, and most of them are totally decorative.
Then, just the other day, we noted wren activity in our yard. It was a Bewick’s Wren! We have rarely seen them in our yard over the years and they are really amazing looking: tiny with long cocked tails and amazingly raucous songs. They are so small and fragile looking, and they run on the ground a lot also, which is fascinating.
Much to my surprise and exhilaration, the wrens moved in, and not into the wren house, but into one of the decorative houses! It’s the same pattern we saw before, the adults are constantly on the move for food, and the babies squeal out-of-sight inside the house.
I can’t see them yet, but the way the house is stuck behind a big bush, I may not be able to. The adults seem social and unafraid of me if I keep my distance. I can sit in a chair ten feet from the house, in full view of them, and they just go about their business of bringing food to the young-uns.
The other morning, one of them was feeding the kids, and the other sat on a fence just over the house and sang out like it was an opera singer, loud and strong. It would cock its head and unleash an amazing array of noises, then pause for a moment, catch its breath, and do it again.
It saw me as I was about twenty feet away, getting my bike out of the shed. I suspect it was trying to communicate with me, to thank me for the temporary housing, for being interested but not intrusive, and for the shade of the bush in our yard.
I told the wren one morning that it was more than welcome, and that it and its entire family was welcome in our yard anytime, to stay as long it would like, and that we’d keep a little bowl of water out for it on the chair by the bush until it had to move on.
The bird seemed to acknowledge my comments, and off I went on my bike to the methadone clinic, recharged by these little birds and their timeless procedures, ready to try to bring a little of the same kind of lift to my patients that the wrens have brought me.
Jim Anderson, MPAS, PA-C, ATC, DFAAPA, is founder of Physician Assistants for Health Equity and is a clinician and manager at Evergreen Treatment Services in Seattle.