The Strangest Nester

Photo by Susan Crossett

It seems quite customary for a robin to create a nest on a drainpipe just beyond my front door.

Do you suppose it’s the same family (or same mother perhaps) who returns each year to stake her claim to this particular piece of metal? Now she flies off a wee bit, settling in a nearby tree to scold me ever so loudly each time I walk out the door. Well, sorry, but it is the way to the compost so I must use that door occasionally. Granted, she has no objections to my practicing the bass just a few feet away (indoors) so I’m happy to have her there — in spite of the mess.

I read of the nest of a city robin that contained a “doublemint gum wrapper, Q-tip, paper, string, duct tape, packing tab, tissue, jig-saw paper business form strips.” Mine is far more plebeian and content to use the twigs which are readily available. The nest is deep to fit the contours of the female’s body, worked in soft mud and lined with fine grasses.

Almost as reliable is the phoebe who chooses her own drainpipe within pleasurable viewing from my desk in the den. Unlike the robin, however, she does no housecleaning, preferring to simply add on to all her earlier nests. It’s grown quite extensive over the years.

Nests have never interested me as much as the birds who build them. I don’t go looking for anybody’s nest. I am definitely open to surprises, however, and recall finding the nest of an oriole low in a pear tree.

My interest was somewhat reawakened (there are only so many hours) by a book given to me of absolutely gorgeous — and true — paintings of birds, their eggs and their nests by Maryjo Koch.

May I intrigue you with a little of her “Just for fun” before going on to my unusual nester: “An Oriole built its nest entirely of fishing line, including the weights. A Common Sparrow built a nest inside of a railway station gong sounding more than one hundred times in 12 hrs. Robins have been known to build their nests in old coffee-pots, teapots, kettles, watering cans, biscuit boxes, baskets and the hubs of old cart wheels.”

It was a Blue Jay that surprised me. When did they take to nesting on a drainpipe — or, for that matter, near a house? Their living arrangement seems a haphazard affair. Often (it can be called often) I see one building and then, later, resting within. One time a male (I presume) flew in to feed his mate but, unless she’s really hunkered down in there, most of the nest remains empty. It’s been at least a week of this so I must presume they aren’t terribly devoted.

The Stokes Guide (Donald Stokes) suggests those searching for a jay nest look in mixed scrub or mature growth. I don’t find that terribly helpful. But they do add that jays frequently build let’s call them starter nests which are never finished or used. These don’t go beyond a loose collection of twigs. Actually, he says they may do this several times before they’re ready to build and occupy a breeding nest. Once while watching mine I saw an oriole swoop in to carry a twig away. Guess it’s all fair.

Koch includes a lovely quote by Donald Culross Peattie, an American naturalist and writer:

“Every human being looks to the birds. They suit the fancy of us all. What they feel they can voice, as we try to; they court and nest, they battle with the elements, they are torn by two opposing impulses, a love of home and a passion for far places. Only with birds do we share so much emotion.”

And mine? Stay tuned.

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Susan Crossett has lived outside Cassadaga for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. “Her Reason for Being” was published in 2008 with “Love in Three Acts” following in 2014. Both novels are now available at Lakewood’s Off the Beaten Path bookstore. Information on all the Musings, her books and the author may be found at