Monday, May 10, 2010

Nature is harsh and life really does go on

Only a week ago I posted about, among other things, a pair of California (Pipilo crissalis) towhees that had nested in a shrub outside of my studio in our backyard. Greg and I were both excited at the prospect of being able to observe a towhee family raised in our backyard, especially since a scrub jay deprived us of the chance a year ago when she raided a nest that we watched towhees build in our rose trellis two years ago.

We discovered her putting the final touches on the nest while sitting in the backyard last Sunday, May 2. I heard the towhees calling to one another and saw her, with straw in her beak, disappear into the shrub. When she was gone I looked for and found the nest.

The first egg appeared the next day and a day later Greg looked when she was gone and counted three eggs. For the next week she spent most of her time on the nest, although toward the end of the week she spent increasing amounts of time away. Each time she left the nest she announced it loudly to her mate, a habit I found convenient for me but I wondered who or what else might find it also convenient to know when there were unattended eggs. I remained hopeful, though, and planned to spend at least one of the days of the weekend parked in the backyard, watching and sketching.
On Saturday, I managed to get a few sketches of the view I most often saw, a tail sticking up over the barely visible nest amidst a flurry of leaves and pink flowers. Sunday it rained, an odd event around here in May. The towhee, who had been spending more and more time away from the nest, left just as I was going into the house for lunch. After I'd eaten I got out my sketching materials and sat under cover with my binoculars. No one was on the nest but I noticed our favorite towhee, Lumpy, lurking about the nest area and looking...well....anxious, if birds exhibit anxiety the same way humans do. Lumpy has a lump on the back of his head and only one foot and was blind in one eye for a while, although the eye seems to have healed. I thought Lumpy was a female and wondered, at first, if she was our nest builder. I watched for over two hours. Lumpy left off sitting on the fence above the nest only once when her mate called from the front yard. By this time, I felt pretty confident that she was a he. I checked the nest which was still unattended. It was too high for me to check the eggs but my growing sense of doom was confirmed when Greg (who's a foot taller than I am) got home and reported sadly that there were no eggs.

We had worried about the location of the nest because the fence it's near wasn't private enough for our neighbor and, a few years ago, he built his own fence onto it, creating a partly hidden runway for the Norway rats that have become a large presence in our neighborhood as their favored habitats have been taken over by humans. We suspect that the eggs were easy picking for them, especially with the loud announcements each time mama towhee left the nest.

Lumpy continued to sit forlornly on the fence until early evening Sunday and I concluded that he's the daddy. I heard them calling back and forth in the yard next to ours and they've both been seen at the front yard feeder. I hope they've found a safer place for their new nest. I hear them calling as I write this.

You can hear the conversational call of the California towhee at and learn more  about California towhees at:

All About Birds

1 comment:

  1. This was a great post Debbie. I enjoyed the happenings of your Lumpy's family. I hope you are feeling better.