To find an Ovenbird nest was like magic. You’d hear the distant skittering call of the female and come upon them to find her carrying a twig, if you were lucky. The pair worked in perfect harmony in the warmth and saturation of a new summer forest. The sun warmed the birds’ olive backs and their trim spring plumage held back the moisture in the air. The morning was humid.
The male will sing his reassurance softly above the female as she builds their nest and you know that you have found something worth seeing. The weight of the feeling that the entire forest exists simply to cradle the birds in this space sinks into you. He lets the quiet notes, sung just for her this time, descend to the forest floor where his mate is building. She hears how he is strong, he will defend their territory, and of how he will tend the nest with her this season. She knows he will pass these traits to their chicks.
She builds thoughtfully as he encourages her, letting out a whinny of scattered notes and fluttering a few feet across the leaf litter when she becomes excited. She’s feeling exhuberant with the energy of this spring morning, the beginning of this season’s attempt to secure her genes in the future pool. Her nest will be well placed and sturdy, for she is a strong female too. This year she has chosen to build in a sea of wood ferns. The tightly woven dome and basin of her nest are built into the side of one of the fern’s hummocks. For a few moments the male flies down to join her and the pair walks off to forage together, strengthening their bond. They walk side by side, a few feet apart as they bend and hop to pluck insects from leaves and stems.
Again the sun is warm and the forest has created a quiet space for the nesting birds. You have come upon them and it appears that they are the only thing happening in the world. All else stops as you watch in quiet awe, as they regard you with one eye, a backwards glance, and return to their business. They will continue to work if you keep your distance.
When the female returns to building and the male to singing, she places a few final twigs to finish her structure. She steps inside the perfectly circular opening to rearrange a few things and take note of the nest’s lining- enough for the eggs and chicks that are soon to come. She steps back from the nest now and in one deliberate motion she jumps up to grab the tip of a fern frond and then bends to tuck it in to the side of the nest, a last attempt to make her home invisible.
The male flies down again to meet the female and the pair walks off to forage once more, leaving the nest. You take the opportunity to move a step closer and admire their work, feeling the longing and need for the ability to create something so perfectly functional and so beautifully temporary.