Six days ago a pair of California towhees (Pipilo crissalis) built a nest in our backyard and lost their three eggs a week after being laid. I thought the culprits were rats but didn't know that there had been an avian dust-up the day they disappeared until my husband told me that there had been jays and towhees yelling loudly most of the morning. That points to our resident bully, a scrub jay that had already attacked and caused the death of a house finch this season and raided the towhee's nest last year in our rose trellis.
Sunday May 9, the day the eggs disappeared, the industrious female began to build another nest, although not in our yard. We saw her several times, gathering nest material, in our front yard. A couple of days later I noticed her resting wearily in one of our garden boxes for a very short time, maybe 15 minutes, before getting back to work. During the last week we often heard the two birds calling to one another and saw both birds at our feeders.
Sunday May 16 just before lunch I was sketching in the kitchen, by the window that looks out on our feeders, when I saw a scrub jay swoop down to the ground, heard two towhees call out in alarm and saw one of them fly off. I figured that the other one flew off in another direction and ate my lunch. After we'd eaten Greg went outside to water some seedlings but came right back in, obviously distressed. He asked me come outside and showed me a crow ripping apart a towhee in the street. We shooed the crow away but the towhee had already been divested of much of it's head. The crow came back and resumed the carnage. We were gone all afternoon but when we returned home Lumpy, as we called the male towhee (in reference to a large lump on the side of his head) was nowhere to be seen. Since he normally spent a great deal of time at the feeders we feared the worst. He had met with some kind of disaster before we noticed him and had been blind in one eye for a while and was missing a foot, making him an easy target for the scrub jay.
California towhees mate for life. The female builds the nest, sits on the eggs and depends on the male to feed her and to help feed the young once they've hatched. I've been unable to find information on single mom towhees but suspect that, if the scrub jay doesn't eat the eggs, they still don't stand much chance of surviving without the male to do his part. And, of course, with the female spending more time away from the nest, the scrub jay will have more chance to eat the eggs.
Our front yard seems rather empty with Lumpy gone. He spent a good part of each day in our front yard, eating at the feeder, bathing in the bird bath and sunning on our front walk. I sketched him several times as he was the least skittish of the birds that visit and I'm going to miss him.