John Hall frequently photographs his mid-Missouri surroundings, and he has been sharing his images with the Missourian for several years. Hall was also recently featured in a Columbia Missourian article, in which he reminisced about his days as a bat boy in the Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri Baseball League.
This article could be called "A Step Ladder in the Tomato Patch." A second title could be "The Bluebird of Sorrow."
Right off, an apology was tendered to Mr. Bluebird in midweek. In the last set of photos, I showed him outside his house with a spider in his beak. I assumed that Mrs. Bluebird didn't want him bringing that in to the new hatchlings. I even speculated, that when he visited another bird box, he might just be thinking about leaving the wife for a more understanding and tolerant mate when it came to main course meals.
Well, I minded my own business until midweek when I noticed Mr. Bluebird outside his front door portal once more. He was being kept out just as he had been a few days earlier. With the big lens directed at the box, I noticed a face that shouldn't have been there. It was that of a sparrow. I immediately went to the box and scared her off. I then opened the front door, after knocking, and was surprised to find the young birds in apparent good shape.
(If you can't see the slideshow embedded above, view it on Flickr here.)
A dilemma quickly arose: The second after Mr. Bluebird left home to hustle for the next meal, the sparrow went right back inside. I knew something had to be done so that dad could guard the nest and feed the little ones at the same time. So, off I went to the local bird store to purchase a supply of meal worms. I purchased 500, thinking they would last for a while.
Upon my return home, I placed a step ladder next to the bird box and placed a bowl on one of the steps. In the bowl, I placed one dozen worms and walked out of the tomato patch. Before I got back to my camera, Mr. Bluebird had picked up all those worms and had taken to feed four very hungry little ones. In the next 1.5 hours, I had placed nearly 400 meal worms in that bowl, and the little ones consumed every one of them. At that juncture, I knew I had better get back to the bird store where I purchased 1000 more.
During the second day of feeding, the robins figured out there was a "free lunch" and that precipitated my having to run them off just as I had the sparrows. I spent most of two days sitting under the Sycamore tree with my eye trained on Mr. Bluebird's home with my artillery nearby. When the sparrows thought about taking over, I'd let a dirt clod fly through the air and upon hitting the wooden fence, it would release "dirt shrapnel."
After watching that male bluebird tend to four youngsters, I understood how difficult it is for one parent to do the work of two. It brought back memories of 65 years ago when my father passed away, and my mother took on the task of caring and feeding four little birds of her own. I thought that would be a nice story to share with her the next morning at the nursing home. But, I never got around to sharing the story with mother, for she doesn't recall that I was one of her "baby birds." She called me "Uncle Jake" and informed Jake that he had been better to her than anyone, and she'd never forget it. When I got ready to leave I was "Uncle Clarence," yet another uncle she never had until her mind invented him at breakfast this week.
In watching that bluebird go about his tasks this week, I was impressed with his total dedication to the task. He now comes within five-to-six feet of me, and when he isn't around the nest, I'll stand there until he comes in from his search for other food. Mr. Bluebird hasn't become totally dependent on me. He still goes out and finds spiders and green worms and mixes them with the meal worms. As of late this weekend, I'd purchased 2,500 of those worms.
It was possible to take hundreds of great photos of the bluebird at work. However, none of them are included in this batch. None of the photos have been edited or cropped in any manner. I just thought you might like seeing the person I've nominated "Father of the Year." Yep, on this Father's Day, my wife and I think Mr. Bluebird is a great dad. And, we have also become pretty good friends. We meet each morning around 5:45, and I shut down the restaurant around 7:00 p.m. If you'd like to see some great photos, they'll be showing up once the children are out of the house.
I thought I would also share something wise which I think you'll agree is a real "hoot." Well, actually, I'm sharing a couple of photos of a barn owl who can't tell the difference from where hay is stored and people live.
The owl landed atop the neighbors' house and watched intently as Mr. Bluebird and I discussed the separate roles each of us would play in ensuring the four babies make it to adulthood. Right now, however, we'd be content to see them become teenagers and strike out on their own for a while.
This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.