The Birds

A couple of towhees — they’re sparrow-like little brown birds, common here — showed the shocking lack of judgment to build a nest in a potato vine on our back porch. They must have worked fast, too, because one day I had no idea they had moved in and the next they were fighting a scrub jay to protect their place. Kate and I heard the commotion early Sunday morning, and even our neighbor on that side of the house commented on it.

California TowheeTowhee nest, with eggs

The towhees seemed to have two tactics to try to fend off the jay, which we figured was trying to get at any eggs they had in the nest. First, one of the birds would try to distract the jay by fluttering weakly along the ground near the nest; second, if the jay took that bait, both birds would fly into a bush nearby, puff their feathers up, and try to counterattack the bigger bird. But the jay wasn’t to be distracted, and kept coming back to the next despite a local human’s attempt at intervention. He, or she, was scared off several times, but kept returning. When he was gone, one of the towhees would return to sit on the nest. But eventually I looked out and saw the jay was standing on the little round of twigs and pecking at something.

I chased him off and climbed up to take a look inside the next. Sure enough: two pale blue eggs, one perfect and one broken. With the jay gone, the smaller birds returned to take a look. They didn’t leave, but neither did they sit on the nest again. The jay come back once more and got at the second egg, and after a little while, the towhees were gone. The last time I looked in the nest, the ants were already at work on what had been left behind.

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