Each spring I wonder about the logic behind cardinal birds building nests in the low shrubs and dwarf trees growing in and around our yard. Many times, the nests are robbed of eggs by snakes or squirrels, and sometimes even the hatchlings are preyed upon before their eyes open or feathers emerge. And far too often, I have witnessed neighborhood cats running off with a young fledgling in its mouth, the parents diving at the cat, but to no avail. Unfortunately, there is no saving the helpless baby in these circumstances. Though the Cardinal parents are resilient and I often see them taking up residence in another nest just a week or two later, I have to wonder how they feel about the loss of the previous clutch. Would it be horrifying for them to observe a predator taking their young? Could it even be considered easier to accept if the eggs or babies were just missing when they returned to the nest?
I thought about this when we took the chainsaw to the old “widow-maker” over at my mom-in-law’s garden area this spring. As my husband FD whittled away at the giant tree limbs, there in a hollowed area of a limb lay two baby squirrels, just inches from a chainsaw cut. These babies were now orphans, thanks to our decision to take down a dangerous tree. Of course we took in Buddy and Francesca and gave them a good raising, and they are now on their own and doing very well. But what of the mother who probably watched the tree come down and wondered what happened to her babies? Did she continue to search for them after we cleaned up the wood? Did she ache for them until her milk dried up? Or did she move on without a thought and begin the cycle of procreation again, just like the birds seemed to do?
For the past two years we have witnessed Daisy deer endure these same hardships. She lost her first little buck to a bobcat. She fought a brave battle to save him, but she could not. She searched for a week and a half, continually tracking his scent and mooing softly. Still having his twin sibling, Spirit, to look after, Daisy finally settled into her role as the mother of a single fawn. And last year she managed to raise a set of twin does to the age of six months. Then, during the rut, Heidi and Dancer disappeared only a few weeks apart. We never knew what happened, but suspected coyotes.
And in August of last year, Daisy’s yearling, Spirit, gave birth to a late season fawn we named Willow. Again, during the chaos of the rut, Willow was lost. Likely Spirit was being chased by a buck, and little Willow being only a couple of months old could not keep track of her mamma in the fray. A lost and confused little fawn would be easy prey for a predator. Spirit wandered the woodlands for six days searching and mooing for Willow before her calling stopped.
So this year when Daisy gave birth, if I am to be honest, I felt a bit detached from the entire process of birthing and rearing spring babies. Perhaps I am still feeling the loss of Heidi, Dancer, and Willow from last autumn… and when Spirit disappeared this February, well it has all been just too heavy for me. I have also worried about the four orphaned squirrels we raised and released. Too many times this past month, I have seen the foxes nab birds feeding on the ground or snag up an unsuspecting squirrel bounding along in the woodlands. Though I have respected the foxes and marveled at them since we began seeing them on the property a year ago, I really hope they will just move on. I do not want to think of Punkin or Mr. Gambini, Buddy or Francesca becoming lunch for one of the foxes or their kits.
With all this on my mind as Daisy’s birthing took place this spring, I was proud that she seemed to be extra secretive with her fawns this year. Each passing day I was hopeful, but carefully so. The old Eeyore in me practiced caution in the emotional section of my brain. I felt I could not handle another loss. Instead, I watched from a distance, not wanting to interfere with Daisy’s ways – with nature’s ways. I was happy to see that Daisy chose to keep her little ones in our neighbor, Steve’s, more “wild” backyard. And I could understand why. For one, the back side of his property is a wild tangle of woodland and prairie grasses. Also, tall weeds and shrubs dot the back “yard” and old snags and fallen timber lie in waiting of decomposing and returning to the earth. This gives Steve’s place a more earthy smell – fresh and alive – where our more groomed property does not hold the same appeal for a whitetail mother to hide her babies.
After a couple of weeks observing Daisy with her little charges, I named the smallest fawn Sophie. She was light-colored and tiny compared to her sister. She seemed to be a mama’s girl, staying close to Daisy. Steve asked if one fawn might be named after his little sister, Megan, who died of a rare type of bone cancer at the age of nine. When Steve described his little sister, I knew that the darker colored fawn with bright blue eyes and a delightful sense of independence should be our little Megan. I often saw Megan running in Steve’s backyard, while an anxious Daisy attempted to supervise.
In late June, Daisy could be seen taking Megan to the woods, allowing her to run and scamper about. At a month old, it was common for Daisy to begin showing her fawns the layout of the woodlands. They were already familiar with Steve’s back yard and bottom-land, as well as our property up at the top of the canyon. The fawn’s next ventures would be the area below the slope, and in time she would lead them to the pecan orchard, and eventually there would be outings to the river, when the fawns were stronger and could endure running for longer distances.
Then on June 29th everything ended abruptly. A strange summer storm blew in, bringing down tree limbs and branches. Ear-splitting lightning cracked and thunder rolled. Rain hammered down in great sheets. And when it was all over, the silence that followed brought sunshine, warmth, and freshness. Unfortunately, it also brought the familiar mooing and moaning of Daisy searching for a baby. Was it for one fawn or both I wondered? What could have happened?
In the days that followed, no answers came. Daisy roamed the same territory day after day, expanding the circular pattern into the pecan orchard and just beyond. After nearly a week, her udder did not seem as large as it had been, and I was not sure if she had been nursing at all. During this time, Daisy was healing from her own wounds and gouges that had appeared the morning after the storm. And, after a full week passed and her wounds were mostly healed, Daisy still seemed to be searching, nose to the ground, but the search was not in earnest, and the calls for her babies had stopped. I still felt hopeful that she had one fawn hidden somewhere, but I knew, deep down, that we should have seen some sign of a fawn by now.
It has been nearly two weeks since the storm and Daisy’s udder has shrunk considerably. She has almost healed completely from the gouges and scrapes she suffered the night of the storm. I cannot say I know what she’s thinking, but her actions are not that of a mother raising fawns. She comes to feed early mornings, and again in the evenings, but she is mysteriously gone all day long. Curiously, another doe who frequents the area, and who delivered her fawn(s) the first week of June, is also without any babies tagging along. Instead, her little yearling buck is with her again – which would not be allowed if she had little ones to care for. Apparently, all of the fawns of our woodlands have disappeared.
Daisy seems fine this week and I see her daily. She still walks through the areas where she kept her babies hidden, but she does not linger long. Sometimes, she stops for a few minutes to mutual groom with me, or she might throw her head to the side and do the “crazy head” movement, and then run to the woods. Her appetite is back to normal, her wounds are almost completely healed, and she seems quite content. When I am with her at the feeder in the evenings, I often see the other woodland doe and her yearling buck, waiting in the pecan orchard for Daisy to join them. They all seem to be doing just fine…
But, I am not fine. I grieve for Daisy, and for myself. Why must Daisy experience so much loss in her life? Usually, a clear message comes to my mind of just what I am to learn each time I witness something of nature. I observe an animal or a situation and the message is quickly revealed. But not this time. I do not have a clue what the message is with yet another experience of total loss for Daisy, and for me… this time I am blank. Maybe numb is a better word. I am sad, and I am angry. I feel a bit more hardened about life. Megan and Sophie lived thirty-two days, and all that remains are memories of two frolicking little fawns who danced briefly for their mother. And now the nest is empty. It just is not fair.
But I guess life is not about being “fair”. Life is just life – lived moment to moment. Life and joy come in some moments, death and sadness in others. And in nature, life for one often means death for another. But the circle of life goes on, as spring turns to summer, summer to fall, and fall to winter. And another spring comes, and the doe has a new spotted fawn, or two, or three – and the cardinal fills her empty nest with another clutch of eggs…
© 2015 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…