We await the new tenants

We’ve had chickadees in our birdhouse for years. Now there’s something new.

Reiner Bernhardt/Picture-Alliance/DPA/AP
Eurasian nuthatch

The birds are all spiffed up in their spring suits and zipping around like mad. The males look sharp and they know it. Everyone’s in motion. They’re feinting, they’re flirting. There are rivals to rout and ladies to woo, and every fine-feathered one has an opinion about what constitutes his own personal space.

Spend any time at our window and the playground hierarchy becomes clear: Chickadees push out goldfinches. Juncos get the best of chickadees. Song sparrows sweep out the juncos, and those give way to scrub jays. Anybody gets to chase the robins. They’re sludgy; it’s probably all the worms. And oddly enough, the tiny bushtits can write their own ticket. They’re small, but plural. You can’t have just one bushtit. So if a bustle of bushtits shows up, all the other birds stand by, sullen, like grumpy old men stranded on a park bench when the kindergarten lets out. They have no idea what to do about it all.

Which means it’s spring, and it’s time to rent out the birdhouse again. The nesting box we’ve mounted just outside the window has been occupied by chickadees for the past six years. We believe their names are Marge and Studley Windowson. We can’t tell them apart, but apparently they’re not at a loss about it. They have eked out baby chickadees successfully every year but one. We’re very proud of them.

Last season was a tough one. Nobody in the country seems to be able to count on their customary weather anymore, and we’re no exception. Our winter and spring rains never materialized, and although some people of weak character seemed to approve of that, the rest of us got edgy. 

Sure enough, Marge and Studley were ragged and thin by the time their babies left the nest. The insect harvest was all out of whack, and there wasn’t enough to go around, it seemed. There’s not much that’s sorrier than a skinny chickadee. But they made it through.

So we were happy to see them again this year. They checked out the nesting box right on schedule and figured they’d wait before putting in an offer. They’ve got time. This place is always available. They wouldn’t be hauling in furniture for a few weeks, anyway.

But then a pair of red-breasted nuthatches swung by. And they were serious. They were measuring it up, pecking at the rafters, and consulting with each other from a nearby branch. And they had cash in hand.

It could still go either way, but it’s not looking good for Marge and Studley. They no sooner show up in the tree than they are introduced to the pointy end of a nuthatch. We feel bad for them. We thought about putting up another box in the same tree, so we can continue to monitor it from our window. But we decided against it.

It turns out zoning laws apply. Most birds are pretty particular about housing density. There’s only so much energy they want to expend swatting intruders. And it’s hard enough snagging 500 bugs a day without having to compete for them. So we’ll stick with the one box and take what comes. I’m starting to root for the nuthatches. I can tell them apart.

Now it’s looking more and more as though I’ll get my way. One of the nuthatches has started bringing in the mattress, which comes in several pieces (some assembly required). If her boyfriend shows up with a tiny Allen wrench, I think we can ink the deal.

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