Yesterday I asked for advice about how to deal with a nest of eggs that presents itself in an inopportune place (a tree slated to meet a gruesome end in a whisper-chipper) at an inopportune time (mere days ahead of when we finally launch our backyard overhaul). The consensus among commenters who professed knowledge of or experience with birds in the wild seems to be that there is no promising way to relocate the nest without scaring the mama bird away and leaving the eggs cold and orphaned. Given that the whole point of moving the nest would be not to throw out the baby birds with the despised tree, this outcome would be sub-optimal.
Some of my commenters homed in on the ethical issue here, rather than the practical issue. In particular, Mouth of the Yellow River wrote:
This is indeed an ethical dilemma and probably will have to be resolved dependent on your personal code of ethics.
If you are of the ID, religious right, environmental protectionists, animal protectionist, dietary vegan, and other related socio-ideologic sects, then you should probably let them hatch and vacate the nest naturally. You can sit back and satisfy that somewhat hypocritical and in the end selfish socio-psycho need to feel good that you have been a protector of innocent life while sacrificing your feelings of urgency to change the landscape over which you have control.
If you are from my old country and Japan and other Asian cultures, you will carefully take the eggs and prepare a nice rice-based dish of only the highest quality, and just before dining, crack each of the eggs carefully, do not disturb the yolk (or the developing embryo), as a topping to the serving. Eat the egg (or embryo) with reverence savoring every taste, and go away feeling good that this life has now been continued as an addition to your body and being.
If you are not in the first or the second category above, but a pure Darwinist, depending on your disposition at the moment, gently or violently destroy the nest and the eggs with it naturally (don’t flush them) so they can contribute to the natural non-human chain of life in your backyard. Go away feeling that you have insured that the genes in the progeny of these parents who were stupid enough to build a nest and lay their eggs in your backyard in such a labile location will not survive and those who did build their nests in a secure location will.
In other words, my decision here is a kind of litmus test of what kind of person I am.
Well, that’s fair enough. It’s true that the desire to save the eggs probably has less to do with a thoroughgoing commitment to protect and enhance the lives of all the wild beasts in the great outdoors (because honestly, you should see what I do to the snails I catch in my garden) than with preferring not to feel bad that a fluke of timing might result in the loss of a clutch of eggs. I don’t know that it’s hypocritical to prefer not to harm the birds if it can be avoided, or even to prefer not to feel bad for harming the birds. (Maybe it would be less hypocritical to embrace my potential for harm and to learn to enjoy it?)
The second option (continuing the life force in my tummy) is rather more vitalist than I am. I suppose I prefer to turn to compost to nourish the vegetables that nourish me. By temperament, I’m more of a cultivator than a hunter-gatherer.
Which, I suppose, brings us to the Darwinian angle: Ought I to be acting as a force of selection here against a bird dumb enough to build a nest and lay a clutch in the most loathed of trees in the yard? (It’s hard for me to call the bird dumb, really, given the glacial pace at which I’ve been pursuing the plan to overhaul the yard. Betting on my sloth is usually a good bet.) The answer might be yes if the thing I valued most were control over the back yard landscape. However, part of why we want the yard improved is so we will spend more time out in it, amongst the flowers and fruit trees and butterflies and birds.
In other words, those birds have the adaptive advantage of appealing to my aesthetic sense and being just the kind of feature I want in my back yard landscape. Pretty sneaky of them.
So, we’re going to try to do every other part of the back yard project before we remove the tree. My better half has tentatively identified the mama bird as a Northern mockingbird. If this identification is correct, we’re looking at 12-13 days for the eggs to incubate and 11-13 days for the chicks to fledge after the eggs have hatched. So, in all probability, that would mean less than four weeks’ delay of the tree removal. We can probably swing that.
I should also point out that one of my commenters who encouraged me to wait for the birds to hatch offered to share the expense this might create in terms of the contractors and their schedules. The theory was, if I tell you you ought to pursue a certain ethical course of action, I ought to be willing to share the burden that pursuing that course of action might impose on you. How cool is that? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: my commenters are the best!
Northern mockingbird photo from http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/id/framlst/i7030id.html