Monday, 29 October 2012

In which a family of Silvereyes might regret choosing my garden

Today I almost murdered two baby birds. I might well have murdered them still, despite all my efforts to save them. It remains to be seen whether they will survive today's ordeal. Tomorrow I will check.

The lesson to be learnt here is CHECK there are no BIRDS' NESTS hiding in branches you're about to saw off.

I have this Lillipilli tree, which I don't like much. It drops squishy pink berries all over my garden twice a year, and I've been contemplating removing it for years. Every so often, I chop off the branch that overhangs my lemon tree. Said branch came under attack today -- as did a great many other bushes in my garden -- but it wasn't until the branch had reached the ground that I saw the nest.

It was a tiny thing, about 10cm in diameter, neatly woven with twigs and spider-thread. My gut lurched and I had this vision of eggs tumbling to the ground... and then, as we were investigating it, trying to peer inside, out toppled two tiny baby birds.

I felt aghast. These birdlings were so tiny. Their eyes were still shut. They had no feathers. They could have been a day -- or hours -- old. They floundered around in the foliage, caught up in the leaves and branches of the chopped limb. I wanted to cry.

Carefully, we cut out the fork with the nest attached and placed it in a shallow plastic flowerpot. Then we cut away the foliage the babies were caught in and --whizzing off into the shade -- somehow got them back into the nest.

They huddled there, taking up all the space, dazed and confused.

And then, oh how I wanted to weep, as mummy and daddy bird (Silvereyes - tiny little things) appeared back in the tree, beaks full of food for their little ones, clearly perplexed at finding no sign of their nest. They hopped about the tree, searching, determined, because they left them right here just ten minutes ago!

Somehow we had to get that nest back into the tree before mum and dad gave up the search. The location needed to be shady and protected from other predators. And it had to be as near as possible to the original location, so mum and dad could find it.

In the end, we hung the pot, cradling the nest, in the tree and suspended off-cuts of foliage around it to provide shelter and camouflage. I was happy that we'd done all we could do, but it would be all for nothing if the parents didn't find the nest.

It took a little while. The parents had disappeared again and I feared they'd given up already, but then they reappeared. We decided to retreat from the vicinity and watched from a distance as the parents hopped from branch to branch, searching, searching, and then finally found their nest and chicks. They disappeared into the little bower we'd built for them and their birdlings got fed.

Silvereye feeding chicks - from Wikipedia

I can't express the relief I felt at this. I was so upset at having chopped down the branch and destroyed their carefully built little home. I feared I had killed those baby birds. I didn't really think we could get that nest back into the tree where the parents would be able to find it.

I still worry that the location is inappropriate -- that the sun will be too hot, or some rodent will get them in the night. Or that the ordeal of being tumbled from their nest and man-handled back into it will simply be too much for them. Maybe they had to wait too long for their meal? Maybe the parents won't like the new environment and abandon their babies. I don't know.

Tomorrow I will climb up the ladder and see if the babies are still alive. I'm going to cry if they're not.

Now, when I look at my Lillipilly tree, I don't see an ugly waste of space that needs to be pulled down at my earliest convenience. Now I see in its substantial crown of foliage a massive habitat for these little birds. This experience has really struck home the reality of deforestation that's happening all around the world, and how it's affecting the natural habitat for so many creatures.

I can't believe I had a real birds' nest, with tiny baby birds inside, in my back yard and I might have murdered them. I really hope they're alive in the morning.

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