It would be wonderful to flap our arms and fly. We could go where we wanted, zipping from work to home, from beach to restaurant. Ah, the independence! I have a recurring dream where I do the breast stroke through the air; invariably, it’s a warm spring day, and I fly over green farmlands and blue lakes and cozy villages, and the world is beautiful, and all is peaceful and enchanting.
Birds are lovely creatures, twittering and chirping their songs for us in springtime, darting and soaring through the air like acrobats, like swimmers in a sea of air. Technically the last of the dinosaurs — warm blooded, egg laying — these small beings took wing to escape the terrible fate of their kind, then swooped across millions of years to fly and sing for us today. Their artless command of the sky evokes fantasies of freedom in us, and their ability to evade trouble inspires thoughts of immortality.
Birds also can crap all over your yard, peck your garden to death, and damage your house. For several years I fought a rear-guard action against an onslaught of doves who would march across the iceplant-covered hillside behind my residence, wreaking havoc among the succulent leaves, poking and prodding and drinking from them until the plants withered and died. I tried everything. I replanted; the doves ate the fragile shoots. I installed a net over the hillside; they got under it. I placed a large rubber snake at the top of the hill, and they stood on it. I wanted a BB gun.
Today I live next to a riparian woodland — there’s a stream and a lot of trees and bushes and frogs — and all day the birds there sing in profusion. There are ducks and geese, hawks, crows, gulls, swallows (apparently the ones missing at Capistrano flew up here to live), and lots of tiny birds, like thrushes and humingbirds and wrens. One tiny mating pair — a gray-brown and a brown-with-red, probably finches or sparrows — decided to build a nest in a light fixture recessed into the ceiling of the arcade outside my apartment.
The fixture, called a “can” by electricians, was built to hold a wide outdoor bulb. But times have changed, and now there’s a narrow, u-shaped flourescent tube that doesn’t fill the can; the birds fly around it and into the recesses of the warm little cylinder. Their wings beat against the bulb as they fly in and out, and eventually the bulb loosens and falls away, to shatter on the floor underneath. Around the pieces of broken glass lay twigs and leaves and other detritus from the birds’ extravagant efforts at nest building. At night, with no working lamp, it got pretty dark in that hallway, which created safety and security hazards. Something needed to be done.
I called the apartment office, and they sent out a maintenance guy who cleaned up the fixture and replaced the bulb. But, the following day, nest building was again in full swing.
I stepped outside, startling the birds to flight, then placed a chair beneath the fixture, climbed it, and examined the situation. The can contained several springtimes’ worth of old, dried, pressed foliage from previous nests. I recalled the broken lamps from the past couple of years, and the picture became clear: this fixture was a coveted bird nesting spot.
I cleaned out the nest — debris falling all over me, getting into my eyes — and thought about how to barricade the lamp against further abuse. The fixture had no cover — there wasn’t a need in the original, wide-bulb plan — so I imagined some sort of metal mesh that could be inserted into the can around the lamp, protecting it and preventing bird entry. Time was wasting: the birds kept rebuilding; the female was probably bursting with eggs. The maintenance guy was unavailable, so I went to the store.
At Home Depot, I bought a plastic, translucent cover, intended for a shower-ceiling light, that sort of matched the dimensions of my fixture. Back home, I discovered that its attachments didn’t quite fit the can, so I jury-rigged it a bit, adding a twist of gaffer’s tape to shore up one gimpy side, and stepped back. It looked kind of lame, but it did cover the hole. Light from the flourescent bulb shone through nicely. Close enough. I’d wait for tomorrow to see if it would withstand the birds.
It didn’t. By late the next morning, they had found their way past the weak spot in the cover and were busily constructing another nest, this one laid carefully on the inside surface of the cover. Perhaps they liked the warmth next to the tip of the temperate flourescent bulb.
Again I had to clean out the nest. The bird pair retreated to a nearby tree branch, where they perched and stared at me. It gave me a feeling of guilt, of complicity in a crime. While working, I’d glance over at the birds, and their stares seemed baleful. Probably they were simply alarmed and at a loss as to what to do. Still, the whole staring thing worked my nerve.
I soldiered on. I had an idea — one that my idle brain had worked out late the previous evening — that involved connecting the cover more tightly to the fixture with large paper clips. I had to shape the clips, but, strangely, it worked perfectly, and the cover held close to the fixture. This time, I hoped, the birds would finally be thwarted.
The apartment office sent out the maintenance guy again, and he observed my jury-rig and declared it permissible. In fact, he wondered if they should put them on all the open light fixtures on the property.
After three days, the cover was holding nicely. I hope the birds found another place for their nest. Time was getting short for their reproductive cycle, and the world can be a cruel place. After all, they’d just had their lovely little home destroyed and walled off by a giant bipedal monster.
Clearly, life can be tough for birds. The romance of their airy freedom must be tempered with the reality of their short, sometimes frustrating existence. It’s not all song and soaring.
I, on the other hand, can simply retire to my rooms, curl up in bed, and enjoy a long springtime’s nap, unconcerned about whether larger beasts might rip my world asunder. Still, now that I’ve played ogre to those tiny creatures, I wonder what new reveries I will have. Will I dream of soaring, only to be chased by squadrons of sparrows?