Gray catbird nest
Gray Catbird nest with assorted Del Ray detritus

Backyard bird feeder visitors this spring have included House Finches, House Sparrows, Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals, Common Grackles, Mourning Doves (on the ground below the feeder), a single Red-winged Blackbird, and Gray Catbirds. I’ve tried to keep the bird bath filled with clean water on these hot days (today the high is expected to be 102°F). I’m particularly motivated to monitor the water supply because I noticed a few weeks ago that two catbirds were delivering twigs and fluffy bits to one of our large Osmanthus bushes. I wanted to thank them for choosing our yard, a great compliment which meant they had identified it as rich enough in food, water, and shelter to support the family.

Lately the pair has been taking turns swooping about, grabbing insects and caterpillars in their bills. This morning I pushed gently into the bush to see what was happening. I think I was expecting a Del Ray–style nest evoking the vibe of our weekly farmers’ market crowd: couples weighed down by Swedish baby carriers (or Andean baby slings) and cotton tote bags with blue/green Earth logos. Instead, the nest looked like an episode of Hoarders with the bits of plastic and paper woven among the twig structure. If it were 1987, I might think these spoiled suburban birds with their black mohawks were building a shantytown to urge the university to divest from South Africa. No, perhaps this is indeed an emblematic Del Ray nest. My little urban homesteaders are recycling and repurposing while exploring E. F. Schumacher’s “appropriate technology” concept.

The eggs are supposed to be turquoise blue, but when I leaned in to gawp, one of the pair jumped on a branch very close to my face and gave me such a nasty look. I retreated and refilled the bird bath.