by C.J. Hirschfield
Did you know that Children’s Fairyland is a Certified Wildlife Habitat, licensed by the National Wildlife Federation? We were so pleased to have met their high standards for admission many years ago: “because of the owner’s conscientious planning, landscaping and sustainable gardening, wildlife may find quality habit—food, water, cover and places to raise their young.”
|A large nest was discovered at Fairyland, photo by Rita Hurault|
This last bit was once again brought home to roost (pun intended) when we discovered yet another abandoned and beautiful bird nest last week. Jen, Fairyland’s fearless gardener, found it just behind the big white rabbit that guards the entrance of our Alice in Wonderland Tunnel. “I thought it was trash,” she says when she came upon what looked like a mass of twigs, resting on top of some other plants. Upon closer inspection, however, it was clear that a very industrious bird (a towhee, Jen surmises) had created a masterpiece. “It was made of wondrous things,” she says, and cites them: silvery dusty miller leaves, airy and delicate seed pods from love-in-a-mist (a medicinal plant found in Tut’s tomb), fibers from the trunk of a fan palm.
Oh yes, and two other ingredients that are not plant-based: a piece of ribbon that we attach to our iconic Magic Keys, and what Jen says is the preferred material she’s found on the very interior portions of Fairyland’s finest nests — the area intended to be the softest, to protect the egg. It is hair from the tail of our mini-horse, Pixie. The strands are delicately woven together; their white color is distinctive. Lucky for the birds, this happens to be the time of year she sheds the most.
“Fairyland is a huge habitat for birds,” says Jen, who is particularly proud of the park’s organic gardening that involves no pesticides. She notes the presence of pools, Lake Merritt, and the many acres of gardens represented by both Fairyland and the Gardens of Lake Merritt across the street, which provide abundant water, seeds, insects and places to forage.
Jen has appreciated the large number of nests that she’s come across over the last few years she’s been with us. In addition to towhees, she’s marveled at the work of robins, bluebirds and insect-eating phoebes, but it is the tiny hummingbird nests that are her favorite. She even has a nest collection at home, which she protects in a display case.
Fairyland Super Volunteer Rita Hurault and nest, photo by C.J.
So what did Jen do with our latest, and quite glorious nest? She gave it to our wonderful gardening volunteer Rita Hurault, who was on the job that day. And what a perfect person to receive it. Rita retired not that long ago, after having taught for 28 years as a pre- and after-school teacher at San Francisco’s Tule Elk Park Children Center. Rita recalls that in 1994 the school tore out its asphalt playground, and installed a natural garden for inner-city kids in its place. “That’s why Fairyland is such a perfect fit for me,” she says. “I’ve been doing stuff with nature to try to save the planet for a long time.” She describes the nest as being “very, very beautiful,” appreciating its complexity, thoughtful structure, and little touches of color throughout.
Rita got only a few steps outside of our fairy gates before she had to stop and share the nest with all the kids who were leaving the park that day. She also took it with her to a hair appointment afterward, where there were ample “oohs” and “ahhs”— coming from adults this time.
Rita, who is also a fabulous visual artist, isn’t quite sure what she will do with the nest; she’s considering displaying it in a clear container, or maybe passing it along to her teacher friend who educates kids using gardens.
Children’s Fairyland may be located in the heart of downtown Oakland, but we’ve got a whole lotta nature goin’ on.
--C.J. Hirschfield has served for 17 years as executive director of Children’s Fairyland, where she is charged with the overall operation of the nation’s oldest storybook theme park.