My garden is a war zone. This is a startling revelation to me because I’ve grown up in the gentle arms of myth, the myth that gardens are healing oases of sweetness and light. Observation has eroded that myth over the years, but I’ve clung to its core despite mounting evidence.
Two days ago, I was in my garden and in my bliss as I tilled the ground with my Italian hoe. As I worked, I dreamed of the pumpkin seedlings I would plant once the soil warmed up. Ever patient, one of my resident crows perched in the hazelnut tree at the far end of the garden and waited for me to finish. It wanted to inspect the freshly turned ground for insects and worms. Our times together are a dance we both enjoy.
Sometimes I will walk away from my work to fetch another tool or my weeding bucket. The crow will swoop in to strut across the soil and grab a goody here and there, all the while with one eye cocked in my direction. It knows I’m still active in the area, but as long as I don’t intrude on its comfort zone, it’s prepared to stay. That comfort zone is three to four meters, if I’m facing the crow, and closer to two meters if my back is turned.
So, I tilled the ground, and the crow sat in the hazelnut tree. But a little brown bird that I suspect is nesting under a pile of branches near my shed was not happy about the crow in the tree.
“Scold! Scold! Scold. That’s too close,” it seemed to say.
I paused to listen, trying to identify the bird. It was a small brown dot, too far away from me to see detail. After a time, it stopped scolding, and I forgot about it…until…
Yesterday evening, I was again tilling in the garden, this time musing about the scarlet runner beans I will plant when the risk of frost has passed. A breeze sighed, a starling sang, but otherwise, all was quiet. Then I remembered the scolding bird and how I’d planned to listen to some bird calls to see if I could identify it.
“Do it now,” I counselled myself. “If you don’t, you’ll just forget it again.”
Pulling off one of my work gloves, I dug out my phone and opened a birding app. The two top contenders for little brown birds that might nest in a pile of branches were song sparrow or Bewick’s wren. I started with the wren and played one second of song #1. Nope. A second of song #2. Nope. But a brief spurt of song #3 was spot on. I shut down my phone and slipped it back into my pocket.
“Push OFF!” scolded the little brown wren, which had appeared out of nowhere and was now bouncing angrily on the ground just off my right boot heel.
I jumped and mentally cursed myself for playing the songs in the yard, not in the house. If I’d thought it through, I knew better.
An eye blink later, the wren was on the compost box where it sang a full phrase of war song. Then it flew into the plum tree above the compost and sang a medley of threats and statements of ownership.
“Sorry. You win,” I muttered. “The usurping wren has fled.”
Once the wren decided the threat had been thoroughly routed from my area, it moved back to the vicinity of the crow and gave it a fresh round of verbal abuse. Eventually, it claimed victory over all and fell silent again.
It reminded me of the proverb, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” A Bewick’s wren weighs about 10 grams. A crow weighs about 500 grams – that’s fifty times bigger. An average adult human weighs about 60,000 grams – that’s six thousand times bigger than the wren.
The wren did not physically attack either of us, but verbally? “Oh yeah! And don’t you forget it!”
The size of the fight in that wren is epic.
Wrens and crows are welcome in my garden, but rabbits are not. So far, they haven’t intruded on my neighbourhood. That means I can have nothing but good thoughts about them. Here’s my video story about rabbits.