Late at night he hides in the bushes outside my front door. I've caught him staring intently from behind my car, seemingly angry and ready to have it out with me. So far I'm winning, my main defense a roll of aluminum foil.
The "enemy" is my neighbor's cat who's determined to raid a Carolina wren's nest in a wall planter on my front porch. I'm equally determined to stop him.
He succeeded last year. Sadly, I gathered up a pitiful baby bird, wrapped its cold little body in soft flannel and buried it. I understand predators and the life cycle and I even like cats. But laying to rest that little baby bird, I felt really angry with that cat. This year, things would be different.
Carolina wrens are a common small brown bird with a distinct white line above each eye. They usually nest in protected spots such as abandoned containers or planter boxes off the ground, secure from rain.
I've watched parents construct a nest, snug, compact and just right for a family. Usually there are four eggs and it takes only a few weeks from nesting to fledging. The parents work feverishly and together coax and encourage until the last little fellow tries new wings and awkwardly, at first, takes to the trees. From first twig to last flutter it's a heartwarming observation.
The wrens returned to the porch wall planter a few weeks back. Opening the door during nest construction, we were bombarded with chatter as if they just wanted us out of the way. Things settled down and only when I perched on a stool to peek did I know the mama was patiently waiting the days until her babies hatched.
One night a few weeks ago, there was a commotion. Plants were flung out of the box and potting soil scattered but the nest with babies was secure. It was close to midnight, and in the bushes lurked the cat. He'd jumped for the box but fell short, lost footing or a frantic mother bird flapping at him made him miss. The next move was mine, or I should say "ours," since my husband paced back and forth, ready to take on the intruder hand to paw.
Late night is not my best problem solving time but I began to rummage through things hoping for something to secure the nest from the cat that wouldn't further upset the mother bird.
Aha! A thought struck. When my daughter was pregnant she was determined to cat-proof things like the cradle, infant seat and stroller. She'd heard that aluminum foil might be a deterrent, so she covered things with foil and it worked like a charm. Cat steered clear; baby things weren't messed with.
Armed with foil — a large roll of heavy duty, extra wide — I cut strips and duct-taped them gently around the planter. Then Jay and I laid down foil flooring in the area the cat would use as his launch to the planter box.
Days passed without incident. Baby birds have feathers, their little yellow beaks are prominent and mama bird steadily zooms in with bugs and worms.
Meanwhile, that cat sits in the bushes, hides underneath shrubs and ventures to the edge of the porch glaring at us. To our knowledge he hasn't set foot on the foil and otherwise isn't close enough for jumping to the nest.
I've searched the Internet for "cats and foil" and found interesting ideas but no scientific reason why many cats dislike foil, but for now it seems to be saving the baby birds. Soon our trees will be a little fuller with young wrens.
Then we'll see about getting that foil off the front porch.