Off came the windows, in moved the wrens

One of the pleasures of May is opening the windows, slipping in the screens, and letting the bird song and breeze ripple through the rooms once again.

The west windows have removable storm panes in wooden frames that we carry back down to the basement - a task much more to our liking than bringing them up and installing them sometime in October or November.

The back of the house is almost entirely protected by an enclosed porch and workshop. Only one window, in the kitchen corner, is exposed to the elements. It had a storm pane, too, but after it shattered (I don't even remember how or when), we simply left its frame in place.

The small space between it and the inner pane collects all manner of detritus that has to be cleaned out before a screen is installed.

I was contemplating taking a whisk broom to the accumulated pile and popping in a screen when I noticed the curiously sculpted look of the leaves, twigs, and grasses. It brought to mind a miniature domed cave.

As if in answer to my unspoken question, a Carolina wren (family name Troglodytidae) landed on the ledge of the frame with a twist of grass in its beak. The little brown bird - with its signature upturned tail - boldly met my gaze with its own pointed question. I put the screen down, left the broom where it was, and nodded a welcome that she apparently took to heart.

Over the next few days, she and her mate finished the rough outer walls and roof of the nesting cave and began moving inside with softer stuff - moss, pine needles, what looked like lace, and fine dried herbaceous fluff.

Each time they came and went, the whole domicile shivered with energy and anticipation.

We avoided putting lights on in that kitchen corner, never raised the window, and waited. But the wrens seemed to have changed their minds. For days they didn't show up. The nesting cave began to droop after a couple of rains andtook on an unpropitious, slightly derelict air.

Was the window nook too close to us for comfort? Or had the birds taken umbrage at our three dogs, whose nose prints liberally decorate the bottom panes of all the floor-to-ceiling windows - and all of whom exuberantly exit for their morning romps down the stone steps right by the nest?

I took comfort in the thought that the wrens must have found a better nook for their coming brood in the barn, hay shed or corncrib, all of which have successfully hosted generations of these and other songbirds.

I considered once again cleaning up the window ledge.

Then, toward dusk today, they were back, arriving in a whoosh of purposeful energy from whatever property they'd been weighing against ours. They began to work more frantically than ever as if making up for lost time and trying to keep one hop ahead of the season's demands.

They set the little dome aquiver again as they flitted in and out, lining their cave with more bedding.

Once, meeting at the opening - one coming, one going - they started to pass a tuft of something beak to beak. But they seemed unable to pause long enough. The darkening kitchen corner flooded with the urgency of the split-second communiqué: "Take this - I'll go get more - nevermind, just go, go!"

The exiting bird darted off and the wren with the full beak moved on inside. The structure bounced to the new burst of housekeeping. Then the second bird, too, was off again.

Darkness fell, and a new wave of thunderstorms rolled in after midnight. The small cave pressed against the pane looks no worse for wear in the dim light of daybreak - all ready for a new generation of troglodytes.

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