It’s always exciting in our cross-country travels to encounter birds that we don’t usually see. But it’s also rewarding to make friends with the birds in our own backyard, and to have the opportunity to observe them as they go about their daily lives.
The birdlife is abundant and diverse in our little corner of the world. Although we haven’t moved our trailer for almost seven months, we haven’t lacked for bird sightings. Every morning, a White-breasted Nuthatch forages in the cedar outside our dining room window. Black-capped Chickadees, Scrub Jays, Stellar’s Jays, and Oak Titmice are regular visitors to nearby feeders, and families of California Quail patrol the grounds, zooming by like wind-up toys.
A serene pond just steps from our trailer shelters geese, ducks, blackbirds, and the occasional heron, even throughout the snowy winter. Come spring, the geese and blackbirds build nests. This year, we’ve been watching the Wood Duck nest box, hoping there will soon be babies.
At Emigrant Lake, just down the road, a large and varied population of woodpeckers fly among the gnarled oaks, entertaining us with their raucous calls on our daily long walks. Bluebirds flash by in a streak of sapphire, and brilliant yellow goldfinches appear in vast flocks, singing their little hearts out. Bald Eagles and Osprey dive for fish, while Red-tailed Hawks soar overhead. Recently, we came upon a fierce, fluffy owlet—and spotted the Great Horned Owl parent in a nearby tree.
It all delights us. But by far, our most extraordinary bird experience this year involved a family of Rock Wrens. Colored pale gray and brown, the diminutive songbirds blend perfectly with their favorite environment of arid, rocky canyons. We’ve spotted a few on our walks around Emigrant Lake, where they hang out on the rocky, boulder-strewn shores, making themselves known by their buzzy trills and comical bouncing movements.
Usually, Rock Wrens nest in rock crevices, hidden from sight. But just a few weeks ago, we discovered a pair of wrens nesting in a most unusual place. Several mornings in a row, we noticed wrens flying in and out of a steel pipe that serves as a gated entry to the lake. When we peered into the pipe, a pile of tiny stones marked the entrance. Rock Wrens have the unique habit of building “walkways” for their nests, and this was a telltale sign that the wrens had chosen the pipe for nesting.
Each morning, we looked forward to visiting the wrens. A couple of weeks passed, and we observed the pair busily foraging and carrying a variety of insects and spiders into the pipe. One day, Eric photographed a wren bringing a small lizard to the nest—our ornithologist friends told us this is highly unusual behavior, and something that had never before been recorded.
We surmised that the eggs had hatched, and were looking forward to seeing the fledglings when they emerged. But late one afternoon last week, Eric rode his bike to the lake to check on the wrens, and sent me a heartbreaking text—“The wren parents were killed today.” Both had been hit by cars while foraging for food along the roadside.
Neither of us could bear the thought of the nestlings starving to death while waiting in vain for their parents to deliver food. Even though we knew there was a slim chance for success, we decided to try to save them.
Equipped with a small cardboard box lined with paper towels and a jar of live bugs, we set out on our rescue mission. As we approached the pipe, we could hear the nestlings calling for their parents. The babies were more than a foot deep into the pipe, and although I was voting for Eric to stick his hand in the pipe, mine was the one that fit. I wedged my hand into the pipe halfway to my elbow, groped around, and one by one, gently dragged the nestlings out. Once secure in their temporary cardboard box nest, Eric fed the hungry babies the bugs he had captured.
We’re not experts in wild bird care, so we turned the wren babies over to Badger Run, a wonderful wildlife rehab center in Klamath Falls. The people there are extraordinarily dedicated, skilled, and compassionate. (And they can use all the help they can get—with no funding from state or federal agencies, they rely on donations and volunteer efforts.) Liz, one of the founding members of Badger Run, has been taking the wren babies along to her “day job” as an insurance agent, because they must be fed every 15 minutes.
As of today, one week after their rescue, the nestlings are thriving. In just a few weeks, they’ll be returned to Emigrant Lake, where they’ll be released back into their home territory. We’re sad that we won’t be here to see them take flight, but we’re preparing to take flight ourselves as we resume our fulltime travels. We’re hoping next fall, if we’re lucky, we’ll see the wrens in our walks around the lake.
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