the dummy

Morning checks:

-Three bluebird eggs in box 1.

-A dummy nest in box 2.

House wrens build them.

Do they get along, Google?

-House wrens may attack bluebird eggs and hatchlings.

-House wrens block all available nesting cavities from other birds.

-House wrens are territorial up to an acre surrounding their real nest.

-House wrens sound bubbly but spell disaster.

I removed the dummy nest (it had been empty for weeks),

careful to check first that there were still no eggs.

They had filled box 2 with so many twigs that part of the entry hole was blocked.


Morning checks:

-Four bluebird eggs in box 1.

-Box 2 still empty, no rebuilding yet.

We burnt the dummy nest in a bonfire last night, along with most yard sticks (to discourage repetition).

Eleven o’clock at night, but a single mockingbird was jarringly awake and screaming somewhere nearby.

“It sounds like he’s going off in seven languages,” I mused. Then, I tried to count — I couldn’t, but it was a lot more than seven.

Early in the morning I heard the bubbling wren again, relentless.

I stuffed a pillow over my head and hoped it wouldn’t harm the bluebird eggs.


Morning checks:

-Still four bluebird eggs in box 1, no holes.

-A dead adult house wren in box 2.

Immediate self-blame.

Did you die of shock from your nest disappearing?

Immediate shame.

You were feared a nuisance, now you’re dead.

I dug deep, covered the bottom of the hole with clover flowers.

Purple rubber-gloved hands slid the bottom out of box 2.

The side of your head facing down had something odd near it.

Your eye.

Something plucked it.


Maybe I didn’t kill you; maybe I gave you a quieter place to die.

Did you somehow fly into that space with half your visual capacity dangling by an optic nerve?

Maybe I did kill you; maybe the somewhat blocked entry hole would have kept out a foe.

Did some other bird’s visual acuity spy your entry and corner you?

Maybe you started it; did you go after the eggs after all?

Maybe they started it; are my beautiful bluebirds territorial too?

(They never harmed the former tenants, Carolina chickadees, despite poking their heads in many times to check for vacancy.)

Maybe something else happened; a predator bird, the screaming mockingbird, a stray branch in harsh winds.


I don’t know anything about birds.

They amaze and confound me.

All I can offer is water

native plants

a couple of boxes

and my powerless hopes for them all.


The house wren’s mate sang loudly from the nearest tree while the burial took place,

the saddest bubbling I’ve ever heard.

Into the hole went a tiny, fragile, fierce, limp body,

more clover flowers as a blanket, and the returning earth,

along with some ashes from the bonfire

a dummy burned.