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Bringin' Home the Grub

My Favorite Neighbors

By Dana CrandellPublished 2 months ago 6 min read
Copyright ©Dana O. Crandell. All rights reserved.

I captured the photo at the top of this story in 2016. It's one of my favorite bird photos, for several reasons, starting with the fact that it was taken in my back yard. I mean that literally, not figuratively. Another reason was that it required no blind or stalking. It's a portrait of a friend.

Pam and I had just moved (back, in my case) to Amarillo and had rented a small, old house with a very large, fenced back yard and a covered deck directly off the back door. A large corner of the yard was sectioned off with four-foot chain link to enclose a very old, very neglected cactus garden. A cholla over six feet tall was the central plant, with some very well-grown prickly pear cactus around the base. The owner told me during our tour that the cholla, which now occupied a space roughly twice its height in diameter, had started as a single shoot brought in from the prairie.

Not long after we settled in, I spent a day inside the enclosure with a rake and string trimmer, clearing out tall, dry grass and several years' worth of accumulated trash.

I enjoyed the cool of the Texas mornings, and would usually start the day with a cup of coffee out on the deck, standing quietly and enjoying the fresh air and the songs of the birds in the abundant trees around the neighborhood. Mockingbirds, ravens, chickadees, jays, sparrows and others were everywhere.

I soon started noticing one song that stood out from the rest. It was familiar to me, but I couldn't immediately place it.

I eventually spotted the singer on a power line and watched and listened to it every morning. In time, I noticed it was coming down to the sidewalk that ran to the back gate to dig for bugs. “Digging” isn't a proper description, since it would whip its long bill from side to side along the edge of the concrete. The “edging” process was impressively effective at producing ants and other insects. I did a little online research and discovered that it was a very appropriately named Curve-billed Thrasher, and a male.

Treat yourself to a listen, here:

Several mornings later, I began to hear answering calls. My new friend's singing talents had attracted a lady friend. She gradually came in closer and very soon they could be spotted sitting next to each other on the power line, exchaging chirps. Nature took its course, and they began taking turns gathering nesting material and ducking into a space deep in the cholla plant, about 5 feet off the ground. This well-armored cactus, I learned, just happens to be the preferred nesting habitat of these desert birds.

I gave the new couple some space while they built their family home and settled in. (I'm a photographer, not a voyeur.) The female was a bit shy at first, but eventually realized I wasn't a threat and they would often sit together on the top rail of the fence and chat with me. When the time came that only one of them would be out of the nest at a time, I knew it wouldn't be long before the family grew.

I had gradually been inching my way closer to them when one or both were on the fence rail. Before long, I could stand next to the enclosure, leaning on the rail only a few feet from them. The cholla was thick enough to afford good privacy from almost any angle except the “front,” where the parents would come and go. I talked calmly to both of them, which seemed to help them relax, or at least pique their curiosity.

I took photos of them often. Since I constantly had the camera in my hands or around my neck, they grew accustomed to it. Pam would occasionally come out and talk with them, too. Our big old dog, Beau, kept the numerous stray cats away from their home and the birds never showed the slightest fear of him.

It was during this period that I realized some similarities between my new neighbors and their human counterparts. In a Thrasher family, the male and female take turns sitting the eggs. When the Missus felt the Mister wasn't taking his share of the time, he would be loudly and actively admonished, after which I could almost hear a resigned sigh as he settled in to let her have some away time. Every night, they'd snuggle down together in the nest.

When the day came we heard “peeps” coming from inside the cactus, both parents were as busy as you'd expect a new mom and dad to be, especially with quadruplets. While they came and went, the proud papa posed for the portrait above. A few days later, he would stand by calmly and watch as I placed a short stepladder against the fence, directly in front of the nest and climbed up to grab a few shots of the kids. The ladder became a permanent fixture and we had several chats as I photographed the kids until they fledged and flew away to find mates of their own.

We enjoyed this couple's company for several years and although they'd abandon the nest during the winter, we'd still spot them on the power line and occasionally searching the base of the cacti in the garden for food. I would learn, later, that these resourceful birds will often build a second winter nest near the first and protect the territory around both. This made sense, since the cactus discouraged predators, but didn't offer any protection from the snow. Who wants to come home to a soggy nest?

The Spring finally arrived when he showed up without his mate. For three days, he sat on the power line, chirping softly, seemingly confused as to what to do, then flew away. I walked out to the fence, but he didn't venture down. After the third day he never returned. These birds mate for life.

The nest was never used again. I'll always wonder what became of my musical friend and wish that I could have offered solace of some sort for the loss of his lady.

Pam and I would move out a few years later and the house would go up for sale. The new owners almost immediately removed the enclosure and dug out the cacti. A big storage shed now stands where I had so many conversations and watched life unfold in a way that few are lucky enough to witness. On the other hand, that back yard is now filled with the sound of children's laughter. The cycle continues.


A/N: After completing a large project that's kept me mostly away from Vocal for a while, I thought it was high time I posted something. I happened to remember this one, which has been sitting in the drafts folder on my computer for quite a while. I don't know if it has a moral or any particular value. I do know it's about a neighbor I miss sharing time with, greatly.

Thanks for reading!


About the Creator

Dana Crandell

Dad, Stedpad, Grandpa, Husband, lover of Nature and dogs.

Poet, Writer, Editor, Photographer, Artist and Tech/Internet nerd. Content writer by trade. Vocal Creator by choice.

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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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Comments (10)

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  • L.C. Schäfer2 months ago

    How wonderful. My dad was so fond of birds. He would have loved this story.

  • Frankie Martinelli2 months ago

    So much emotions at play here, just wonderful.

  • Kristen Balyeat2 months ago

    This story warmed my heart so much, Dana! I love the way your respect and admiration for nature comes through in your gentle relationship with these precious creatures. What a gift they were to you and Pam, and no doubt, you were are gift to them. Heartbreaking that he lost his partner, and I just adored the way you yearned to communicate comfort to him. Seriously touched by this story and it's perfect ending. Beautifully done!

  • Awww, look at Beau keeping them safe from the cats! Attaboy! It's so heartbreaking that he lost his wife 🥺 And its even more heartbreaking to know the new people tore down everything!

  • Harbor Benassa2 months ago

    Thank you so much for sharing! This is really well-written. I love how you described the process of earning their trust enough to build a real relationship.

  • Between your thrashers & my wasp, we both have magical stories to tell. And it most definitely has value & a moral, though somehow I think it best to leave them simply understood while remaining unspoken

  • Cathy holmes2 months ago

    What a beautiful creature. I was sad when he lost his mate. Nicely done.

  • Test2 months ago

    Thank you for sharing this touching tale of friendship and connection with the avian neighbors who brought joy and wonder to your backyard.

  • awwww...I would miss them too. That is just what life does....moves on. Thank you for sharing such a sweet memory

  • Jay Kantor2 months ago

    'd' - WhistleWhileWork sharing 'Worms' ~ Yum ~ 'j'

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