Last Sunday, Mom reported there were two mourning dove chicks in the tiny nest outside her dining-room window. She was enjoying intimate views of their progress, as the parents and growing chicks negotiated ever-shrinking space in a nest that was too small to begin with.
Then in midweek, Mom looked out the window to check the birds’ status, and saw a surprising sight: an empty nest.
There were no feathers on the ground, no signs of attack from a cat or other predator, just that improbable nest, now improbably vacant. It’s too soon for the chicks to have fledged. What happened?
I thought of that nest yesterday when I walked down to our chicken coop to let our chickens out for the day. The chickens were fine, clucking and scolding at me to hurry and open the gate as usual. But their coop was not fine.
There is a cold frame along one edge of the coop—a low box with two sections of hinged roof. One section had been bashed in and was lying on the dirt floor of the box. The other, tellingly, was covered with muddy paw prints. Canine paw prints, to be specific.
Dog or coyote? I couldn’t tell, but something had tried its best to get into the coop. Fortunately for Dust Devil, Cecelia, Doreen and Fishhook, strong poultry netting separates the cold frame from the coop proper. So whatever it was did not get into their nest boxes, though the event must have scared the bejeezus out of the flock.
Most of what happens with wildlife goes on under cover of darkness, away from human eyes. We see afteraffects: an empty nest, some paw prints. We try to solve mysteries, knowing we may never know what really happened.
This is one of the challenges of writing about wild animals: You can rarely be sure you have the whole story. Telling becomes a matter of marking out the territory. This is what I know, this is what I guess, this is what I believe to be true.
The rest is mystery.