A Near Miss
Last weekend I was given the task of removing a tangle of landscape plants that have overgrown their bounds in my mother-in-law's yard. I made a rather sobering discovery in the process.
With loppers and hand pruners at the ready, I proceeded to undo years of ignored growth on a particularly large euonymus shrub, an evergreen landscape plant that suffers from molds and mildews and one that shows signs of being somewhat invasive. Straight and lanky from the lowlight conditions, the plant's stem were east to cut near their bases.
Once underway, i worked at a pretty feverish pace. I cut a branch here, a stem there, and pulled out one after another, reveling in the good work I was accomplishing - and then I saw it. Tucked into the crotch of one of the branches I was on the verge of cutting into a bird's nest. I immediately felt a pang of guilt for what I had done. I quickly realized that the frantic chirps I heard from a nearby cardinal were the worryings of the female I had unknowingly frightened off her nest.
A search of the ground under and around the nest site revealed no split eggs or young birds. The discovery of the nest however, made me aware how reckless I had been. I'd known that it was bird-nesting season, and that birds, including cardinals, mockingbirds, and Carolina wrens, had each, at one time or another, chosen this particular yard as a site to raise their young. needless to say, I quit my assault upon the euonymus bush, and the female cardinal returned to her nest.
As I collected the debris from my efforts, the tragedy of what could have happened really sank in. The nest was actively occupied, with parent birds incubating a clutch of eggs that promised to soon become a hungry brood of nestlings. I felt relieved- but only a little- because dumb luck was the only thing that spared these little birds' home. I should have taken care to check the branches for nests before beginning my task.
Some may feel I'm taking this situation too seriously, especially because the nest remained undamaged. But I belabor it because this experience serves as a stark testimony for what's happening all over our community right now on a much larger scale. Instead of hand hand pruners clipping a branch here and there, there are bulldozers pushing down trees and crushing entire woodlands for the sake of buildings and lots. The wholesale destruction of trees and woods is tragic enough, considering how precious these recourses are in a community rapidly dominated by cement, clay and glass. And when you add in the loss of songbirds, turtles and butterflies, the tragedy becomes monumental.
By now I suspect some folks are wondering just how out of touch I am with reality. After all, they're just trees: do I expect us to stifle growth and development for some trees, butterflies, and birds? Maybe little. I worry that our children will look back on our current habitat-destroying behavior and scorn us for despoiling their own children's natural heritage. We're now going through this same cycle, wishing our forebears hadn't brought about the extinction of the Carolina parakeet, the ivory-billed woodpecker, and the passenger pigeon.
I realize there's a difference between the near destruction of a single cardinal nest and the extinction of an entire species. But the thought of extinction never entered the minds of bygone hunters and loggers when passenger pigeons darken the skies in tremendous flocks. These birds just disappeared, along with the aforementioned woodpecker and parakeet, mostly due to habitat loss. Loss of habitat is the greatest threat today's cardinals face. I can try to be mindful of birds' nests when I clip and prune shrubs. I just wish bulldozers could do the same.