The eggs hatched about a week ago and the mother cardinal was very busy, going back and forth to feed them. The three nestlings were pretty quiet – I’d hear the tiniest chorus of peeps when Mom was off the nest, and if you peeped back at them, three little naked heads would stretch up on naked little necks, yellow beaks gaping.
They had a bad time of it on Wednesday when an early evening thunderstorm came through. Dark clouds were bunching up overhead as John and I battened down the hatches in the yard and on the deck. The babies were peeping lustily, but the mother cardinal wouldn’t approach the nest while we were nearby. She sat on the fence, chirping loudly. I made John hurry up so we could get in the house and she could get onto her nest before the storm hit. All three of us just made it to cover as the wind began to blow.
The mother cardinal sat tight all through the storm, even though the bush in which the nest is situated was swaying back and forth. I felt particularly bad for the little family when the rain came down in such force that our gutters and drainpipes couldn’t move it fast enough. The nest sits just under the eaves of the house, right next to a drainpipe, and when the deluge happened, water jetted out of the seams of the drain right into the bush – and right onto Mom and the nest. For a few stupid moments I ran salvage ideas through my head, such as putting an umbrella or tarp over the bush, but decided that would probably frighten the birds more than the storm, and probably just blow off in the wind anyway. Nature would have to take its course.
Yesterday morning the mother cardinal was out and about, and in the early evening I heard the babies peeping as I grilled steaks on the deck, so I figured everything was okay. I went out on the deck early this morning for my usual look around. I glanced at the nest and noticed immediately that it seemed to be off kilter. I took a closer look and could not see any babies. The mother bird was off the nest but nearby, but she came up onto the deck rail, chirping loudly, when I got too close to the nest. I don’t want to be accused of anthropomorphism, but she looked anxious and disheveled. There was no evidence of foul play; i.e. no little bits of the nestlings in the nest or on the ground nearby. It’s clear, however, that something got into the nest and took the nestlings.
My guess would be squirrels. I have a lot of them in my yard – they’ve been taking green tomatoes out of my garden on a regular basis. This is breeding season for them, too; and yes, squirrels are known to be carnivorous on occasion. It could also have been crows or owls, except I haven’t seen any lately. I saw blue jays in the yard yesterday for the first time in a while, and jays are also carnivorous when the mood and opportunity strikes.
The mother cardinal is still in the yard, chirping. More learned minds than mine say that animals don’t feel emotions; they don’t know hate or joy or sorrow. One can only hope this is true. I can’t hate the squirrels or the jays or any other wild creature that may have been responsible for the tragedy – they are only doing what nature tells them to do. Still, my heart aches for the mother bird, and for her lost babies.