There is something about the vulnerability of a bird on her eggs that gets your attention. Margaret Soltan, a blogger normally concerned with university governance, found herself anxiously watching a wren's nest during heavy rains.
Last year, a Cordilleran flycatcher (Epidonax occidentalis) hatched a brood in a nest on a beam on our front porch, even as the Mason Gulch Fire raged, the firefighters tromped up and down the porch steps moving all the furniture into the garage while we were gone, and all the rest of the commotion. It was a paradox in more ways than one. (Photo linked from this site.)
Four eggs hatched, but one hatchling perished. The remaining three grew up standing on the desiccated body of their sibling.
She--or one of her offspring--is back. For a couple of weeks, she and her mate flitted around the house. She would fly up under the eaves or try unsuccessfully to land on the conical top of the back-door porch light.
We went away for a few days, and on our return, there was the nest, in the exact same spot as in 2005, with one egg in it.
She didn't seem to sit on the egg much. (We wondered if she was just out hitting the bird bars.) Then there was another egg. Realistically, she must have to eat a lot of insects to get the nutrients for each egg, which is as big as her head.
Now there are four. She is on the nest more of the time--but right now, at dusk, she is gone.
I hear the male's two-note call in the oak brush, but there is nothing for him to do right now but eat. He will help to feed the young once they hatch.
Ornithologist George A. Clark, Jr., writing in the weighty Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior says, "Many Epidonax flycatchers use a nest only once." Reusing an old nest saves work, but old nests sometimes harbor parasites.
So by clearing away the old nest with the dead baby bird in it, did I encourage her to return--assuming it's the same bird?