The Morning Parade Begins

Rick Brockway

During the summer my wife and I live in our camper up on the hill overlooking our pond. So, a couple of weeks ago I finished getting things ready for the big move. I had taken our power washer up and cleaned the gas grill. A week or so later we were mowing and trimming the yards, and my wife noticed dried grasses sticking out beneath the cover of the cooker.

“I thought you cleaned it,” Pat said.

When I opened it, there was a nest with four blue eggs on the cooking rack.

A few days later I noticed a barn swallow going in and out of a small hole on the side of the grill. Closer examination confirmed that she too had a nest in the grill. Now, what do I do? Sure, I could clean out the nests and go about grilling all summer, or I could go buy another grill. Yup, you guessed it! I bought a new one, justifying it by the fact that the grill down at the house is showing its age. After all, they rust within a couple of years or so.

At first I thought those blue eggs were from a robin. We’ve had one of those red-breasted creatures build a nest in our pavilion several times over the years. But I never saw one go into the grill. Then one day a starling emerged out of the back of the shiny, stainless housing unit. Soon the eggs hatched and four wide-open mouths appeared every time I opened the cover. A couple of weeks later there were only three chicks, but that’s the way nature works. The weaker chick was pushed from the nest as the other chicks got bigger.

The swallows are another story. We had our old dairy barn torn down because of the structural damage from years of non-use. When there are no cows in the barn over the winter, the frost heaves the old stone foundation and collapse in a few years is a definite possibility. There were a couple dozen swallow nests in the barn, and they were unfortunately evicted as demolition continued. They moved in to other local buildings — and in to my grill.

A couple of our friends think I’m crazy for going out and buying a new grill, but until the chicks grow and move out, I’ll provide them with a home. I have an idea for next year to solve a continuing housing problem.

The starlings and robins just fly away if I get near their nests, but the swallows are overly protective of their new home. They dive bomb anyone walking by, missing our heads by mere inches. I tried to explain to them that they were lucky I didn’t just start up the grill, but it made no difference.

Well, the other day there was a new visitor to my grill-shaped bird condominium. As I walked by, a Cooper’s hawk flew out from the back of the grill. There was no doubt what that hawk was doing in there, but I question how she knew about the occupants unless she went in chasing one of the adults. I lifted the cover and all three baby starlings were still there, but I couldn't see the swallow’s chicks so easily.

I enjoy watching crows and even feed them our food scraps. I like them and realize how smart they are. They sit in the tree tops of a nearby hedge row and watch the red-winged black birds fly down into their nests in the tall grass of the meadow. After a while the crow flies over and dives down into the nest, eating either the eggs or the baby chicks. Kestrels do a similar thing. They hover over the meadow and watch for movement below, before diving in for the kill, but the hawk in the grill still confuses me.

In the fall I plan on putting a couple of tall posts in the ground and building a cover over it with places for the swallows and other birds to build their nests. I’ve even thought of adding a bat house on the end. I’m sure they were displaced by the barn demolition as well. After all, they help us by keeping the mosquitos down all summer. I’ll help them as well.

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