01 April 2020

65. Nest in a Toolbox: Part 2

In my previous post, I said we were in for hard times, for sorrow and sad times. This week I lost my mother, the dearest woman in the world to me.

The first two days, I couldn’t stop crying. When I did stop I would remember some funny thing my Mum said and start weeping again.

My husband and daughter didn’t want to tell me straight away. They waited for the right moment to say the one piece of good news that would lift me. 

The chicks have hatched.

Two out of three eggs cracked open to reveal skin bags with a few tufts of fluff on them. Blind eyes, long scrawny necks, beaks that are always wide and searching for sustenance.

The nestlings aren’t the prettiest now, but they will be in a couple of weeks.

When I went to the garage, the mother Grey Shrike-thrush didn’t like it. When I held the camera up to try for a photo, she pretended she couldn’t fly and limped sideways along the driveway. When I went a little closer she swooped overhead. I gave up, not wanting  to distress her.

It was sad and sweet, she was being protective to her infants.

The father Grey Shrike-thrush didn’t like it any better the next day.

On the car windowsill, he gave me hawk eyes and sang to distract me away from his two hatchlings.

Simply glad the chicks were there, I went away, just a little disappointed the third egg hadnt hatched.

That afternoon, I saw both parents singing their clear bell-like songs from the gum trees. When the pair weren’t singing, they had grubs in their mouths. On closer look, they were caterpillars. 

Days ago I had over 100 butterflies hovering over a Geisha Girl flowering shrub in my garden. This bush had almost died in the drought, but came back with good rain in February.

Feeding my peacocks around the back of the house, I noticed a fig tree covered in half eaten leaves. Looking closer, there were thousands of caterpillars in the same colours as the butterflies. 

I squashed one underfoot before realising you don’t get the flitty things without slimy caterpillars first. 

It’s the circle of life.

All the caterpillars on a fig tree close to the garage are nabbed for the hatchlings.

Mum and Dad Grey never stop feeding, back and forth they grab a bit of fast food grub, a quick take-away.

I stood on a toolbox, set the camera up on top of the garage fridge and snapped off some photos. Then I videoed the them feeding.

Checking photos later I was surprised to see three scrawny babes in the base of the nest. 

Ugly, but plump full of potential (and caterpillars).

Three out of three eggs made me feel better. With the overwhelming sadness of losing my Mum, it stopped me dwelling on the situation, giving me something different to think about.

Editing the film, I loved seeing the mother bird with a pale eye-ring, settling down on the nest.

She wiggled her bottom to get comfortable.

It makes me think of a world of people stuck at home in city apartments due to the Coronavirus pandemic; wriggling, restless and trying their best to get comfortable with the kids underfoot.

Since then, both parents are full-on feeding caterpillars in each hour of daylight.

I cleaned out the car yesterday and the father Shrike-thrush with dark eye surrounds hopped onto the car window while I was there. 

He sang his regular song in praise of his triplets and the hatchlings made quiet wheezy tweets in return.

Can’t remember ever feeling so sad as I am now, but hearing the babes made me smile.

The triplets are doing fine, squawking for more meat today. When my family and I go into the garage, we see three beaks poking up and shaking with anticipation.

Though this is mid-autumn, the weather is still really warm. I think the chicks are going to be okay. Their parents are vigilant and stick close to the nest.

Nesting in a box of spiky blind rivets in a heavy traffic area wasn’t a great choice, but the birds are protected from storms, rain, wind and cold there.  

You can hear my footsteps coming back to fetch the camera in this clip. Mother bird is on the nest and she freezes so I can’t see her. 

The camouflage is impressive, the bark strips surrounding the nest blending perfectly with her feathers.

The infants blend in too, except when they open their giant beaks up wide.

We have grown attached to the Grey Shrike-thrush family. I’ve got used to them and they have got used to us. 

Triplets in a nest in a toolbox give me something to look forward to. 

Seeing new life up close is what I needed after feeling fragile, coming to terms with losing the Mum I loved so much.

A false spring with a second brood of nestlings six months after the first was due to warm Autumn weather and it is the perfect panacea for sorrow. 

Surviving being shut in with the COVID-19 pandemic raging across the globe wont be easy. Keeping vulnerable chicks alive at the wrong time of year wont be either. 

 The nestlings, you and I will have to grow stronger together. 

Im willing the world to get through this tough time. Generations have lived through plagues before. Bringing forth the next generation of birds, fish, mammals, reptiles or insects has always been tenuous. Nature has always had to struggle, but survival of the fittest doesnt often come into it with humankind. Only this time, this horrid viral time, it could.

Like infant Grey Shrike-thrushes we might have to stick our neck out.


  1. So beautifully written Therese. A very heartfelt, moving and fascinating account of these beautiful birds and how they look after their infants and the tough times in the world we live in now. Great photos and videos.
    I am so sorry for the loss of your dear mum.

    1. Thank you my dear old friend, I'll post more of the chicks in a couple of weeks when they become much prettier, like their mum and dad. Thanks for your condolences, mums are irreplaceable. Every time I take a deep breathe I can hear Mum telling me to get that fresh air into my lungs. I'm remembering things from childhood and it's like she's still with me somehow. Love T.xx

  2. I'm pleased you didn't squash any more of the caterpillars Thérèse, otherwise what would your chicks be getting fat on? Your shrikes' song is sweeter than the song of our own shrikes, much more melodious. Your posts are getting even better than ever - I love that clip of two of the chicks sinking back into the nest as they realise there is no food forthcoming.

    Sending you my love and sharing a bit of your sadness, from a long way away. ❤

  3. This birdsong is very sweet until you hear it non stop for a whole weekend on repeat. Thank you for your kind message. The chicks go heads up, necks out and then sink back all the time. It's lovely, thank you, it means a lot.