There’s a very crafty sign just inside my door that says “Every birdie’s Welcome.”
Corny, and definitely not true.
I would not welcome a crow in the kitchen, for example, or a turkey vulture in my bedroom.
Same goes for my garage. Three years ago this month, I wrote an article for the Leader-Telegram entitled “Mrs. Robin.” It was about a stubborn bird that would not take no for an answer. It took me a month to convince her that she was, in fact, not at all welcome to build her nest atop the motor of my electric garage door opener.
Fast forward to now, May 2020. On May 1, my wife, Julie, came inside and declared. “There’s a male cardinal flapping around in the garage rafters!”
“What did you do to him?” I asked.
“Nothing,” she insisted. “He was freaking out, so I said ‘Stop it! Get down from there! Why are you doing this?’”
The next day, Julie reported that a female cardinal had also been in the garage. I had to see this craziness for myself.
That’s when I found the nest, about five feet from where Mrs. Robin had attempted to homestead.
What I found puzzling was the choice of location. Mrs. Cardinal — we’ll call her Claudia — chose to construct the nest atop a metal tomato cage tucked into the rafters. If you know anything about cardinals, this makes absolutely no sense. When Mrs. Robin chose our garage, she acted like she owned the place. She’d vacate it in a huff when we’d enter, but pip and bad mouth us until we left. Then she’d go right back in and keep on keeping on.
Cardinals, unlike robins, are secretive, even spooky, nesters. They hide their nests away in the centers of dense conifers or bushes. I have found that even parting the foliage to peek at the nest can cause cardinals to abandon the effort.
I took a good look around the garage. It’s not a tidy environment. There are countless better spots to build a nest than atop the bare skeleton of a tomato cage. There are abandoned planter baskets and upside-down bike helmets. There’s a bucket hung way up high, with a plastic strainer nested inside. In one corner, the roof slopes low over an attractive niche. So much junk, so many choices. What was Claudia thinking?
A robin? Sure. Leave your baseball cap atop a table and you’ll find a robin circling it with lust in her eyes. They aren’t picky. But a cardinal? In a garage?
The rest of Claudia’s behavior was textbook. I use my garage frequently, trafficking bikes, shovels, rakes, and automobiles in and out. But I’ve only caught Claudia in there twice. Julie said she saw her once, spying on me from the sedum at the corner of the entrance. So stealthy. And the male — we’ll call him Stritch — he’s about as helpful as cast iron feathers. All he does is sit up in the crimson king maple and sing, while Claudia does all the work. And work it, she has. Every time I check, I’m surprised to see progress. Ragged bits of plastic and paper woven into the grass. The cup rounding to perfection.
On the 8th, I entered the garage and thought I caught her, red-feathered, in the act. But the bird that flushed from atop the tomato cage looked odd. It buzzed my head and landed in a mulberry tree at the end of the driveway, glaring intently at me; a female cowbird. We’ll call her Cowgirl.
There are no eggs in the nest, so Cowgirl couldn’t roll them out and replace them with her own. However, the amazing part is: she’d not only spotted Claudia going into the garage, but she’d found the nest too. Distressing. Now I’m about to have a cowbird nesting in my garage? This is getting silly.
It’s been a week now since Cowgirl marked the nest. I climbed a step ladder to check, but the nest is still empty. Maybe Claudia finally chickened out. Maybe.
While atop the ladder I heard a familiar “pip,” the call note of a robin. I turned around and spotted, atop the electric car door motor, the first aspirant tangles of nesting material. Mrs. Robin? It can’t possibly be…
It’s my garage. I’m sure of it.
Who’s going to blink first?
Betchkal is an Eau Claire freelance writer.