I have a long history with birds — and even though my head has been a target for wings and talons, I still love having them in the yard. Despite the amount of documentation about their intelligence (check out this fascinating documentary on crows), it’s still safe to say that birds can be — well — bird-brained.
As proof, I offer exhibit A (pictured above).
A pair of doves decided to build a nest in one of the coconut palm trees in the backyard. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, the nest actually looked quite secure and protected. Hidden behind a wall of coconuts, the nest had added support from the curve of the frond.
But the doves selected one of the lowest palm fronds — and in the world of palms, the lowest fronds are the ones that turn brown with age and then fall off. Far be it from a bird to care about such things, especially when eggs need to be laid and sat upon and hatched. Birds leave the bigger worries to people.
Each morning, Joe and I would look upward, counting heads from the ground. Just the mother up there? Any baby doves yet? Will the frond hold on until everyone can fly?
Even at night, from the bedroom window, I would stare at that frond, a silhouette against the night sky. Was it my imagination, or was the frond hanging a bit lower?
And so the weeks past. Human eyes looking upward and counting heads. At first we could only see a parent dove. Then, two more heads eventually popped up. And another parent dove would fly back and forth to the nest with food.
As excited as we were to see the family of doves, we were also worried that the frond would dip downward and fall before the baby doves had a chance to leave the nest. As long as the weather remained calm, we thought, that might buy the nest some more time.
Then, the rainy season began and one recent storm was especially wicked. From the back window, we watched the sky darken. Wind thrashed the trees, lightning split the sky around us, and the windows and picture frames rattled with each clap of thunder.
Still, we stood at the window, keeping an eye on that one frond as it was blown up and down and sideways. Could the lowest frond hold on? Was the nest secure enough? Were the babies safe?
The storm continued well into the night. At first morning light, Joe and I went to the window and — at the risk of sounding like a line from “The Star-Bangled Banner” — the frond was still there.
We stepped outside and again looked upward, the way we had on so many mornings before this. The nest was still secure in the grip of the frond — not a twig out of place, in fact — but it was empty.
We looked all around the base of the tree. Had the fledglings been blown out of the nest, surviving the storm on the ground? Or had the wind blown them into the canal?
We looked into the brackish water — shredded flowers, palm fronds, debris . . . no doves. Where were they? Did they survive the storm only to be eaten by some animal? We had never seen them out of the nest, so we weren’t even sure they could fly. Maybe, we said to one another as a means of comfort, we missed a day of observation and they had flown away before the storm.
As I turned to walk back to the house, I came face to face — or rather ankle to beak — with one of the fledglings, feathers clumped together as a result of the rain. It made no move to flee from me. It stood remarkably still, only moving to peck at the ground.
One had survived. But could it fly? Where were the parent doves? How would we get it back into the nest? Although the nest was on a lower frond, that frond was still about 25 feet off the ground.
Joe and I decided that we would watch it over the course of the day to see what it would do after its feathers dried a bit.
Just then, from the corner of my eye, there was a flutter — the other baby dove. It not only survived, it had flown from the rim of the wheelbarrow to the ground. It then flew upward, landing on a palm frond.
The ground-bound dove also spotted the activity and, inspired by its sibling, flapped its wings for one of its first flights upward.
Eventually, both doves flew to one of the higher palm fronds, comfortable, watching us as much as we watched them, and then falling asleep. It had been a dark and stormy night, after all — and they now had a few short flights under their wings (pun intended).
They not only survived the storm, but also what we thought was a precarious nesting location — and a better location could not have been found. Protected from the elements. Hidden from predators. Near food. Structurally sound.
There’s a lot to be said about being bird brained.