You Win?

by Mark Hochstetler, 14 | May 1, 2022 | 0 comments

Eastern Bluebird and Tree Swallow competing for birdhouse
Eastern Bluebird and Tree Swallow. Photo ©

“Chee! Chee! Chee!” The strident notes eddied through the open living room window and pricked my ears. I dropped The War for Mansoul, which I was reading this noon break, and strode to the window. What was going on? Where was it?

My eyes fell on the rough-sawn basswood birdhouse mounted on a fence post close to the woods. Sun-gilded wings shaved the air around it against a dark backdrop of white pines. Blue flashed. Green flashed. Oh, no, that likely meant the resident bluebirds were being expelled!

I snatched the Brunton 7×50 binoculars out of the desk and stepped outside. Beside the small greenhouse bordering the west side of the garden, I lifted the optics to the commotion. “Aha, Tree Swallows all right.”

Tree Swallows weren’t as detestable as House Sparrows, but this house was for the bluebirds! I couldn’t shoot…but what about chasing them off? I laid the binoculars on the soft grass and hurried closer.

The Tree Swallows, having driven off the owners, perched on the birdhouse roof, discussing their booty. Their slender beaks clacked; their heads cocked. They were so engrossed in their own world that they didn’t even glance at me. I was only 20 feet (6 m) away now.

An idea pounced on my brain—why not try catching one of them? I padded to the birdhouse. My hand crept up the side where Sir Swallow sat. Slowly, slowly, easy now… you’re almost there… easy, take it easy… now gra-

Whoosh! The birds streaked away, awakened to the danger at the last moment.

I almost ducked as the male swallow swooped within inches of my head, his white belly gleaming. The pair screeched violently as they kited and dived around me. So what? I would just stand here until they gave up. It couldn’t take very long.

The Tree Swallows weren’t dissuaded that easily; they would try something else. Sir Swallow alighted on the skeleton of a fallen white pine to wait. And wait. His mate perched on the top fence wire to wait. And wait.

I waited, too. The sun caressed the earth with golden fingers. Somewhere in the woods, a robin Cheer-up-ed. Sir Swallow preened his glossy blue-green pinions and stared at me. Time sighed like the fluffy breeze through the sinewy tops of the pines. I shifted. Should I (hopefully not yet!) return to the welding shop now?

My hunch confirmed itself when I fished out my watch—12:55 p.m. I needed to go now. “Well, Tree Swallows, I guess you win here,” I mumbled, and trudged back to my binoculars.

But wait! What was that melodious whistle that gurgled over the yard and garden? I swung around. There, in a waist-high white pine in the field, perched the male Eastern Bluebird. His carrot-orange breast puffed out, his inky beak opened—he was singing!

Mmm, I mused, grasping the binoculars, I think I told those Tree Swallows wrong.

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