A few weeks ago, I noticed that a bird had created a nest in an artificial tree on our porch, within 2′ of our front door. Every time we went out the front door, the mama bird would fly away. She would sit on the porch railing and chirp until we were far enough away from her that she felt safe to return to her nest. We didn’t want to keep disturbing her, so started using side doors to exit the house instead of using the front door.
Once, when mama bird was not in the nest, I took a peek. Four eggs. We were going to have 4 little baby birds soon.
Then, one day, as I was in the front yard, I noticed that mama bird did not leave her nest, no matter how close I came to the tree or how loudly my dogs were barking at the big-scary-UPS driver. I wondered if her job now was to protect babies, rather than keep eggs warm. When she was out gathering food, I took a peek.
I was right. We had 4 babies.
I made an even greater effort to stay far away from the tree. But I looked out the window by the front door to keep an eye on her. Whenever I saw mama bird sitting patiently on her babies to protect and keep them warm, I asked her if she needed anything. “Can I bring you some water? Do you need some food for your babies? Are you warm enough?” And every day when mama bird was out food gathering, or just stretching her wings, I took a quick peek at the babies. It was such a joy to be able to watch the miracle of life so intimately.
But before the birds had grown big enough to fledge, my husband and I were leaving town and would be gone 4 days. I knew that the possibility was great, if not certain, that the babies would be out on their own by the time we returned home. After having watched them so closely, for so long, I was sad that I would miss that next step in their lives.
Fast forward 4 days….my husband and I arrive home and get out of the car. I am carrying too-many-things in one arm, struggling to keep from dropping loose papers and a few other things. My husband follows me to the door, house key in one hand to unlock the door, and 2 dog leashes (with dogs attached) in the other hand.
I am impatient. I can’t wait to put my things down before I take a quick peek at the nest. I put my finger on a branch and just ever-so-slightly lower it. There, staring back at me are 4 birds, hardly babies any longer The moment is frozen in my brain. I stared at them.. surprised. They stared at me… surprised. Then everything fell apart.
The birds started squealing (I really don’t know if birds squeal, but if they do, they were.), jumped out of the nest, and started scurrying for cover. The dogs saw them and started to go after them. My husband was shouting, “Don’t let the dogs get them!” And mama bird was sitting on the porch railing, chirping her displeasure and fear. It was utter chaos.
I set down what I had in my hands and started after the babies. I was able to catch one, and put it back in the nest. The others I never did find. Mama bird sat on our porch chirping for the next few hours. I imagined she was calling to her little ones, and each chirp just made me feel worse and worse.
It was an accident. I think the babies were ready to fledge. But still…. this is NOT the way I wanted this story to end.
Within a few hours, the baby that I put back in the nest was gone. I was sad that its life had such a traumatic beginning, but I was glad that I had been right.. the babies had been on the verge of fledging. Maybe they would have stayed in the nest another day or two, but I choose to think that they’re fine. I have to choose to think that.
This incident stayed with me for a few days. It reminded me that sometimes, our own babies leave our “nest” before we’re ready for them to do so. We will “chirp” when we think they need help, to guide them and draw them back to safety. But it’s our job to bring them to the point of leaving the nest. And when they do, even though it can make us sad or anxious or fearful, we can take comfort in the fact that they are doing what they were born to do. Fly on their own.