Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Speaking of birds…

May 22, 2009

There was a young lady in white
Who looked out on the depths of the night.
But the birds of the air
Filled her heart with despair
And distressed the young lady in white.
— by Edward Lear


The scaldeens

May 22, 2009

Leaving aside poetry & Irish matters for the moment:  we had an interesting event recently.   A mother cardinal decided to build a nest and start her family in a shrub just outside our kitchen window.

Was this a good decision on her part?  She and her mate were upset about the big creatures who kept opening and closing the blinds– staring at her! — and rudely going in and out the front door, making her very nervous (we almost begged her pardon each time).  But she persisted.  Eggs were laid, and the babies hatched!  Then both parents were kept very busy indeed feeding the hungry little mouths.

And one morning Lynn got me up to tell me that one little fellow had fallen out of the nest, prompting much fluttering and chipping from the distressed parents.  Or maybe he’d just jumped out? for when I managed to scoop him up and put him back, he was soon out again:


We think there were three hatchlings, and soon all three were out and hopping around, giving the parents  fits.  We agonized with them– for one thing, a number of our neighbors have outdoor cats; and we shooed away many a stalking cat found roaming about like the Devil in  St. Peter’s epistle, going about  “like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour”.  In the cat’s case mewing, not roaring, and seeking to devour baby birds and suchlike…

Here’s the father in the shrub, looking for his offsprings:


I’m sorry to say that, as far as we could see, none of the fledglings were to be found anywhere in the vicinity the next day.  But I hope at least one survived.  We’ve had quite a few cardinals in our back yard, and most years we see youngsters who have made it, fluffing up their feathers and fluttering their little wings, chirping to their harassed parents:  “feed me, feed me!”  Until, presumably, the parents finally tell them “you’re on your own now.”

When I was a small boy in the Irish countryside we were always looking for nests of birds, to see the “scaldeens” as we called them.  Our elders told us that if you touched the nest or eggs or babies the parents would abandon the nest– which isn’t usually true, but probably helped keep us from harassing the poor birds and making it happen.

I don’t know the origin of the term “scaldeen”– was it a purely County Leitrim term?  In the Old Norse language “The skald was a member of a group of poets” (thank you, Wikipedia).  And of course the Vikings left their mark on Ireland some centuries befor the English.  Perhaps the Irish added the diminutive  and made it scaildín (scaldeen) to denote a little singer?  I’ll have to consult others in the Irish diaspora on this weighty matter.