They are back-the sparrows. Building their nest precisely where they had built it the last time and the time before that, and the time… well, you get the drift. They’ve been building it there every year since we moved into this house. In that same, right forward corner on the ledge, above our porch.
They build a nest, lay eggs, mamma sparrow and papa sparrow take turns warming them up and foraging for food, hatch them, feed greedy young mouths that threaten to erupt into a cacophony at the drop of a feather, give flying lessons, spend days and nights doing whatever is hot and happening in the sparrow world all through spring and summer and when the leaves and mercury start dropping, take their cue and apparently fly south too.
But this year I really did not expect them back, because of the tragedy that had struck last year. Last summer, one morning we woke up to absolute silence on the porch. If you have ever been near a nest of newly hatched birds you know what a racket those tiny throats are capable of. That Saturday morning, not a peep. Such absolute quiet that it was quite unnerving.
We stepped out onto the porch to find that we had a new visitor out there beside our family of birds. There he was, fast asleep on the corner opposite the one where the bird family lived. All snug and coiled up, sleeping off his heavy breakfast of a bellyful of baby birds!
A distraught mom and dad kept flying at a safe distance, occasionally alighting near the now abandoned nest, fear and sorrow writ large in their beady eyes. My little girl was almost in tears. She was looking forward so much to the flying lessons that would have started in a few days. She and I are the snake lovers in the family. And this time round, I didn’t know how to explain it to her. On one hand was a hungry snake and on the other, a nestful of helpless birds. Survival was the fundamental right of both. And the snake was just doing what snakes do.
A quick google search revealed that it was just a rat snake. (It is another matter that my sister to whom I was telling the news decided to add an extra ‘tle’ to its tail and caused panic to reign supreme in the family back home. I calmed her down saying it was just a harmless rat snake and no, there was no rattle in its tail. The moment I said it was harmless, my little girl burst out, “Harmless? Try telling that to the baby birds!”
My husband, no animal lover at the best of times (he has zero tolerance for anything with fur, feathers, fins or scales, unless it is on a dinner plate dressed up in its spicy best) was totally freaking out at the sight of a snake on his porch, the very picture of contentment that not even a few taps under the ledge seemed to cause a stir in him.
Since the snake had no intention of leaving by himself, we called Animal Control. The snake did not move till the Animal Control person came a good three hours later (apparently, snakes were all the rage that weekend and there were desperate calls from all over the county. Since we were dealing with a harmless rat snake, we got stuck way down the priority list).
Anyway, he came, he saw, he snorted (Oh, its only a rat snake!) and made off with the still sleeping serpent safe in his bag.
“You won’t kill it, will you?” I made sure.
“No we just relocate him into the thick woods far from where people live.”
That summer, understandably, the birds never came back. They flew away to mourn their babies, far away from prying human eyes. And I thought I would never again be woken up by the indignant chirping of my feathered visitors.
Turned out I was wrong. They came back and have built their nest again, brought back by a miraculous instinct, the secret of which they only seem to share with their Maker.
And know what was even more surprising? They came back on March 20th – World Sparrow Day and incidentally, the first day of Spring. The season that signifies regeneration, rejuvenation and rebirth…