Dover, New Hampshire
The barking alerted us of the imminent invasion. Dark wings swarmed in the sky, attempting to blot out the sunshine. Finn and Rosie were racing the track they carved out around our house, barking at the clouds. The two-legged, red-headed Guardian of the grounds who maintained the perimeter of our land was down on all fours, working in the yard - planting perennials. I had just finished plucking my fourth earthworm from the soil when the barking started. The red-headed Guardian must have created some kind of invisible barrier because while she could roam wherever she wanted, Finn and Rosie were restricted from wandering beyond their track. Luckily for me, the juiciest worms lived in the soil just past the limits of the invisible fence. I needed to quicken my pace.
Stomach filled with worms, I stretched my wings and prepared my return to the nest. But before I could leave the plentiful feeding grounds, I needed to harvest a few of my favorite seeds. Craning my neck to the sky, monitoring the ominous flock, I listened closely for faint buzzing. Picking up on the sound, I quickly began my pursuit. A large Monarch Butterfly raced overhead, letting me know that I was headed in the right direction. I followed the black and gold wings into the backyard of the red-haired Guardian’s home, and instantly found what I was looking for. Bees. The buzzing family was swiftly racing in the same hungry direction as myself and the butterfly.
The bees were the winners. They did a quick perimeter sweep over their prize, then swarmed it. Each bee chose their own respected copper and brass petal to land on, claiming victory over all other competing garden dwellers. Larger and un-phased, the Monarch descended onto the bees. For a brief moment, the buzzing grew louder, indicating that there was a battle taking place. The heightened buzzing quickly retreated, as did the family of defeated bees. In their vibrating wake, Mr. Monarch reveled in his spoils.
Lucky for me, neither the bees nor butterflies like to eat the seeds. They prefer to load up on all of the tasty nectar. After a few moments, my patience paid off. Mr. Monarch took his majestic leave of the garden, offering me the opportunity to forage in peace. The red-haired Guardian was now tending to the two hairy watch dogs that had ripped open a large bag of black dirt, scattering its contents across the green lawn. Perfect timing. With the world around me distracted, I entered the garden.
Overwhelmed with an onslaught of fresh aromas, I stayed true to my course. Time was of the essence, and I could not afford to waste it. Beyond the crunchy cucumbers, ripe tomatoes and green baby watermelons, hid my sweet reward; the Marigolds. Bathing in the morning sunlight, hues of yellow, red, gold, copper and brass confidently showcased their artistry. Craning my neck to make sure that the four-legged beasts were still being reprimanded, I started to feast and gather as many of the Marigold seeds as I could. A few of the Marigolds had succumbed to spider-mites, but there were so many of them that it didn't matter - the seeds were everywhere. I admit, my addiction to the seeds has intensified over the past few weeks, but they’re a necessity. This was my second year nesting in the red-haired Guardian’s trees, and my baby was a couple days away from leaving the nest. With having only one child, I needed to make sure I provided as much as I could to ensure her survival. The red-haired Guardian’s garden is vast and plentiful and neighbors a woodland which is home to hungry Cottontail rabbits and white-tail deer that would normally be feasting on all of the delicious vegetables- if it wasn't for the Marigolds keeping them at bay. Upon nesting here last year, my mate had told me that the rabbits and deer don’t like the scent of the Marigolds, so they tend to keep their distance. Smart Guardian.
With no room left in my stomach, I stretched my wings - more intensely this time to compensate for the extra weight, and began to hover above the ground. Gaining air, the entire sky suddenly went dark. I was out of time.
The screeching reached the garden with force, sending it into a panic. Terror-stricken, insects of all kinds as well as two, out of town Bluebirds and six of my fellow Robins, retreated from their vulnerable positions within the feeding ground. Once the other female Robins and I finish nesting, we can rejoin the males who have all gathered at the roost. Until our young are ready to leave their nests, we must remain here, alone. With the males gone, our offspring become vulnerable to invasive predators.
Grasshoppers scurried into the woodland, followed by the Monarch butterflies and chunky bumblebees. A fat chipmunk bolted from one of the ceramic pots of cherry tomatoes, sending a couple of the smallest ones flying. The two bluebirds quickly found some air and took off south, towards the roost. The other Robins did the same but they could not head towards the roost, not yet. They needed to return to their nests to feed and protect their babies. They had each laid three light blue eggs which had all successfully hatched two weeks ago, but were not yet ready to leave the safety of the nest. I needed to do the same. I had also laid three light blue eggs, but two of them never hatched.
I was unsure about returning to nest in the same tree after losing all three of my eggs in a fight with a red-eyed Grackle last year, but the abundance of Marigold seeds, Juniper, Honeysuckle, blueberries and juicy earthworms - made this land impossible to resist.
With Finn and Rosie now both locked inside of the Guardian’s home, I was truly on my own. With the flock’s rapid descent, the flight back to my nest was becoming more dangerous with every second. Out of options, I thrusted my wings up and down until both of my feet left the soil. Gaining air and speed, I caught the wind and honed in on my mud encrusted nest. As I approached the tree line, black bodies dove from the sky and cut through the canopy. I again heard screeching, but this time it was different, it was familiar. It was coming from the Robins. As I was about to land on the branch hiding my nest, a bronzy, iridescent body with a glossy purple head torpedoed into me, knocking me to the earth. As I tumbled from branch to branch, I was able to catch a glimpse of my attacker, and noticed a haunting, familiar feature - a red eye.
I landed in a pile of raked leaves, courtesy of the red-haired Guardian - truly living up to her name. Using my wings, I exploded from the pile and found purchase on a nearby tree trunk. Crunch. Looking down, I saw that I was standing in a sea of light blue eggshells. Fluttering my wings to remove any webs and dirt, I craned my neck up towards the nests and feared the worst for the other female Robins. Eyeing my own nest, I noticed that it was undisturbed. Finn and Rosie’s dog track had provided me with an abundance of thick mud which I used to beef up and camouflage my nest. Confident with leaving it unattended, I set out in search of the male, red-eyed Bronzed Grackle. I had already lost three babies to this vulture, I could not allow that to happen again.
Trotting out of the edge of the woodland, I scurried over to the muddy dog track. In my wake, All I could hear was the screeching of battle. Grackles Vs. Robins. With the males at the roost, we didn’t stand a chance. But I needed to do my part and that meant facing the red-eyed alpha. This was the same bird that destroyed my nest last season. This is the same bird that destroyed my eggs. This was the bird who controls the flock, so if I can defeat him - I can defeat the horde. Crossing the track, I did a quick scan of the lawn. The front and side were both clear so I headed around to the back.
There he was. At first he was trotting across the far side of the garden, plucking at the tomatoes. He soon saw his true target which excited him, making him take flight. Now he was hovering with evil intent. He was hovering over the Marigolds. Before I could take another step, the red-eyed Grackle began to pluck at the yellow and bronze petals, tearing them apart. Frozen in place, I watched as the vulture hovered from plant to plant, plucking and tearing at each one in his path. With the consequences of his actions finally sinking in, I mustered enough courage to charge the Grackle. Putting all of my strength into my momentum, I ran full speed, caught the wind, and flung my body into his.
Colliding hard, we both went tumbling into the garden. I landed in the cucumbers, and he landed in the rose bush. Justice. Shaking off the pain from the impact, I stumbled my way out of the vegetables only to find the red-eyed Grackle standing in the lawn, waiting for me. He was plucking red thorns from his belly, bellowing out a horrid yelp with each yank. Once all the thorns were removed, he aimed his red eye directly at me, stomped his feet and let out a raucous chant. In the distance, a response was given. The black flock began to swarm again, this time preparing for an all out assault on the back lawn. There was no backing out now, I needed to stand my ground. I needed to protect my baby, I needed to protect the other Robins and their babies, and I needed to protect these Marigolds.
Digging my feet into the cool soil, I locked my eyes onto his and chanted right back, letting him know that this would not be easy. Taking that as a taunt, the Grackle charged. He spread his wings as wide as he could to make himself as big as possible. Preparing to counter his attack, I spread my wings out as well. Fear took over control of my body, and I shut my eyes. I knew I wasn’t strong enough to defeat the Grackle, so there was no sense in watching myself be defeated, or worse.
The world faded away and silence consumed my ears. I could feel my heart pounding and the wind begging to lift me away to safety, but I just dug in deeper. Then the silence was broken. The back, sliding glass door to the red-haired Guardian’s home slid open, unleashing a couple of four-legged, fury beasts.
As I opened my eyes to the incoming Grackle, a wave of relief washed over me as I saw his wing get caught in the jowls of Finnegan’s mouth. Rosie was racing around the track, barking loudly at the sky - sending a harsh warning to the remaining winged invaders that they were not welcome here. Finnegan shook his head with force which released the red-eyed Grackle, but not without a cost. A chunk of his wing had been left, dangling from Finn’s front K9. The Grackle struggled to find the wind but somehow managed to acquire enough to make an escape. Finn quickly joined his sister in the never ending race around their beloved track, barking at the invaders - when a heavy cloud rolled in from the south. With a closer look, I realized that it was not a cloud at all, but another flock of birds. It was the roost. They had come to help ward off the invading Grackles. But how? How would they have known that we were under attack?
Then I heard it again. The persistent and aggressive barking. The roost must have heard the seriousness in the dog’s warning. The flock of Robins, Bluebirds, Orioles and Sparrows herded away the pathetic flock of Bronzed Grackles - with their one-winged alpha leading the retreat.
After about three minutes of air warfare, the sky was finally clear. The invasive horde had fled west and were no longer in sight, and the heroic birds had made their return back to the safety of the roost. Rosie was drinking water from a large, shiny bowl that the red-haired Guardian put out for her while Finnegan was drinking from the bird bath in the front yard. Three out of the seven Marigold plants had been destroyed, but the Guardian began tending to them right away - they’ll be thriving in no time. Plucking one final juicy earthworm from the soil, I pinched it between my bill and returned to my nest.
Landing on the thick branch, about ten feet from the ground, I heard the concerned whistling of my child. Using my foot to shift away the mud coated leaves covering the top of the nest, the hungry beak of my baby poked its way out into the sunshine. Angling the worm down, I carefully dropped it into her mouth. As she enjoyed her battle earned breakfast, I heard a faint, familiar whistling echoing throughout the canopy. Searching the trees, I found the source. Five branches above mine on the neighboring White Birch, the six females and all of their babies were perched in new nesting spots, singing a simple song of victory.
The Grackles have been defeated. Finnegan and Rosie have saved the Marigolds, as well as the entire garden. My baby is ready to leave the nest, and I am finally able to return to the safety of the roost where I can rest in peace for the remainder of my days.