For the Birds Radio Program: Home Construction

Original Air Date: Aug. 14, 1991

Why do nighthawks and crows dislike home construction projects? 3:49 Date confirmed

Audio missing


When a family grows to have three children, a dog, a cat, two starlings, a lovebird, and various and sundry convalescing avian visitors, eventually they outgrow their house—at least, that’s what happened to the Erickson household. So we decided to build an addition this summer. Now I know this is the kind of project that makes life pretty crazy for anyone, but I suspect that it’s crazier at our house right now than at most.

Fred the Nighthawk, who’s a creature of habit, didn’t like it a bit when my office was demolished. I was down in the Twin Cities that day, but had instructed my kids to put him on the windowsill in one of their bedrooms. Unfortunately, that was under a section of roof that was being torn down, and apparently the noise was so frightening for Fred that he panicked and started flailing at the window screen, reinjuring his damaged wing. So now I bring him where it’s nice and quiet and safe—at the house of our good neighbors, Mary and Bob Tonkin. Fred spends the day sitting happily in his open, shallow box on the windowsill in their study, looking out the window and thinking whatever deep thoughts any nighthawk contemplates while it’s sitting still all day long.

Poor Pepper the Crow wasn’t so lucky. I already had one baby crow this summer. That guy was lots of fun, but I knew he’d have a much more natural life if I could somehow return him to his parents. The third day I had him, I had an inspiration. He’d been found wandering aimlessly a few blocks from my house, so I decided to take him in my backyard to see if I could attract the local mob of crows. Sure enough, after ten minutes or so, an alert crow chanced by and saw a little baby crow dangerously close to a human, so he started yelling. Within minutes, there were seventy crows yelling and squawking to beat the band—I went indoors, and quickly one of the crows came down and led our little baby off. Baby crows all look the same to our untrained eyes, but this crow’s mother-love was strong enough to enable her to recognize her little one even after three days.

Anyway, that baby crow’s story had a happy ending. But two weeks ago, I received a badly emaciated baby crow who had apparently been separated from his parents near downtown Duluth for a long time. His breast muscles had atrophied to nothing and his keep stuck sickeningly out, he was so starved. He could hardly stand and couldn’t walk at all. He also had a high fever. I started him on amoxycillin and fed and fed him and got darned attached to him. After ten days or so, he was strong enough to spend his days outside, where he sat in a spruce tree or on a rock pile, and softly called and hopped over to me whenever I came out to feed him. He was scared of the noisy machines when they started work on Monday, his fourth day outside, and so he started hiding out in my day lily bed. But by Wednesday, he was getting used to the noise, and was even starting to feel a little curious about it, so he started sitting on my fence to watch. And that’s the last place I saw him. I went out Wednesday at mid-morning to feed him and couldn’t find him anywhere. But I did see a big Merlin—a strong little falcon—sitting at the top of my spruce tree. I kept searching for Pepper all day long, but I’m afraid he provided that falcon an easy brunch.

So half the birds I’m taking care of were pretty unhappy about our construction. But the baby Blue Jays never had so much fun. Next time I’ll explain why.