Construction projects, big and little

In renovating his home, columnist finds finches nesting near his bedroom window

Posted: Sunday, May 24, 2009

Like many Alaskans, my family is taking advantage of the home energy rebate program being offered by the state of Alaska. Under this program, homeowners who are willing to jump through the proper hoops stand to get at least a part of the expenses associated with weatherization and efficiency improvements returned, and as far as I know all our hoops are lined up, so we're in the process of jumping.

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Courtesy Of Michael Wittig
Courtesy Of Michael Wittig

Step one was the energy audit. Our audit told us what we already knew: Our home is an energy hog. Step two is to do something about it.

Springtime is a beautiful time of the year to work on home renovation projects. The snow is mostly melted. There isn't as much rain. Most importantly, the mosquitoes aren't biting yet.

For the last couple of weeks I have been working on the east wall of our house. In addition to insulating and residing our exterior walls I am also insulating the crawl space under our house by adding insulation to the outside of the foundation wall, a process that involves a lot of digging. It's hard work, but I was blessed with good genes and view this more as exercise with a purpose than as a recipe for heart failure.

But something was not quite right. I kept hearing things, swishing noises, fluttering sounds. After a couple of days I realized that the noise wasn't in my head but just outside of it. It was the sound of finches.

One little finch in particular was spending a lot of time very near where I was working. Ordinarily, birds tend to steer clear of people and don't make a routine of buzzing them, but this one finch stayed close by, day after day, as if I was intruding in its personal space.

So the other day I took a break from my labors to observe my avian companion. It was quite used to me, given our close proximity over the previous days, and continued on its daily routine, frequently returning to the planter boxes in front of my bedroom window.

My wife likes artificial flowers. The first summer we were in our house she had me install shelves below all the bedroom windows, and on all these shelves she placed planter boxes with several varieties of fake flowers. It's actually very pretty, and from any distance it's hard to tell that the flowers aren't real (except in the winter, when their presence is obviously not the result of nature).

After observing the comings and goings of my tiny companion I gained a pretty good idea as to the reason for its continuing presence, so I decided to take a look. Sure enough, when I took down the planter and looked inside I found that the finch had constructed a tiny nest, and in the nest had laid four tiny eggs.

I very carefully put the planter box back on its shelf and stood back. A moment later mama finch returned to ensure that all was well with her eggs, then flitted off to find some food.

What to do? Within a couple of days I would be done with the below ground work and would be ready to start on the upper wall. Ready, but not willing. There are probably folks out there who would have no qualms about removing or relocating an intrusive nest, whether or not it is occupied, but I am not one of those folks. Mama finch had nothing to fear from me.

There is an advantage to working on my own. Because there is so much to do and only me to do it, I can pick and choose which part of the house to be working on. This is especially advantageous to the finch family living just outside my bedroom window. Once I complete the "low" work on our east wall I'll simply move on to another wall, and leave the upper wall for later this summer, after the finches are done with their home.

In the meanwhile, there is a nest just outside my bedroom window. The eggs are already hatching. My kids and wife think it's pretty cool. I think so too.

• Michael Wittig is a stay-at-home parent and long-term Juneau resident.

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