I’ve never been one to invest in mealworms for the bluebirds, something that seems a bit silly when the fact is they bring me a great deal of joy. Still we have a gigantic back yard. On a lake. Surely there are gracious plenty worms and creepy crawlies naturally occurring to keep everybody good and satisfied. I mean, they’re birds. Right?
Then last summer some things happened that had me rethink.
First, my beloved bluebird parents had not just one, not just two, but THREE successful nests in the span of five months. That’s a ton of insatiable bluebird babies who must be fed a thousand times a day, even after they leave the nest. You may remember this incredible discovery long about August when I realized it was a baby from an earlier brood actually helping with the feedings!
And so I hopped in my car and drove to the birdseed store to see if there was a reasonable way I could help out. And right there it was–a cylinder of seeds into which a mass of dried mealworms had been smashed.
No muss, no fuss, I’ll take it.
It was hardly any time at all until the woodpeckers and the titmice and the chickadees and the wrens made a feast of the new cylinder. I love them all, and I was pleased with their excitement, but I BOUGHT THE FRIGGIN’ MEALWORMS FOR THE BLUEBIRDS. Where were they? Since they don’t typically eat from a feeder, how would they ever even find it?
In just a couple of days, find it they did. And not just the Mama and Daddy, who seem to hang close all year round. But this time an entire collection of bluebird teenagers numbering at least five, maybe more. Lord those teenagers are fun to watch, they talk so big and still look so unsure.
Oh, and there’s some other bluebird action going on around here long about now as dibs are being claimed on the parent’s bluebird house. (They start building in early March, so time is nigh.) I can’t exactly tell which ones are in and out of it every morning checking on things–but I will have more to share on that later.
For now, these sweeties are bringing me so much joy I thought I would share. Hope you enjoy.
Now I see it every time I pull in the driveway or walk up the stairs or step out our side porch door.
A sweet, empty bird nest, perched ever so perfectly on a long thin branch of our Japanese Maple. It lifts toward the sky, that branch, with a nice view of the lake–a lovely place to build a home and lay some eggs and raise some tiny baby birds.
And still there is another reason this little winter scene brings me so much joy.
I never knew it was there.
Even with my focus on filling the feeders and cleaning the birdbath (for which I had to pass right under this branch), and even for my obsessive monitoring of the bluebird box outside my big studio window, and even with the excitement of chickadee babies this year, I spent the entire spring/summer season not knowing this little beauty was there.
Oh, the gifts of winter, when the leaves drop and gorgeous secrets are revealed!
30 Days of Joy
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We were talking about birds fledging and my hope to someday catch the action as one or two or five jump from the nest the first time. What it must be like to be that young and tender, to summon that courage, then to (quite literally) launch your own body out into the big world.
He mentioned Phoebes had nested near their place, and he’d captured the babies in a photo just after they’d made that scary first flight. They’d scattered a bit. But the parents called them in and in very short order had them all lined up–OneTwoThreeFourFive–for feeding.
It’s such a miracle how nature works, how babies fly, how parents know just what to do.
It’s such a gift that as humans, we can bear witness simply by stepping outside to watch.
My beloved bluebirds nested three times this season, a record here on Bickley’s Pond. Still that is not the most surprising thing that happened around here this summer. This is.
One precious teenager, whom we assume was born of the early brood, started hanging around during the last hot days of the third nesting. It was mid-July and Mama and Daddy were very busy trying to satiate 2017 babies numbers eleven, twelve, thirteen and fourteen.
(These loving parents were also, I am quite certain, exhausted.)
Junior waited. And watched.
Then he started hopping about the yard digging for worms and spiders and creepy crawlies. But rather than eating them himself, the youngster flew to the nest time and time again feeding the bounty to his little brothers and sisters.
On Day 17 the brave little babies climbed to the opening, flapped their wings and jumped from the nest for the very first time. I wasn’t there to witness their fledging (I’m sad to say) but I am quite certain their big brother was very close by, cheering them on.
It was a sweet way to spend July, watching this little group, a reminder of the strength of love, the power of encouragement, and the bonds of family, united.
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I spend a lot of time obsessing over the bluebirds that nest in a box in our back yard, something you know a bit about if you are a regular here at The Daily Grace. But this Spring I haven’t been around to keep as close an eye on this precious couple (and their offspring) as I’d like.
Then a couple of weeks ago I spotted this cuteness at the new feeder I’ve placed just outside my studio window. It holds a magical cone of seed and dried worms all of birddom now fusses over.
This sweet little munchkin, who I figure is four…maybe five weeks old, is sitting an inch from a full-on mealworm feast. But he refuses to reach his little beak through the bars to grab one. Instead he sits and squawks and demands to be fed.
Mama’s having none of it.
She flies in, eats in front of the youngster, then flies away.
(Which results in an even louder ruckus from the little one.)
Then in comes Papa who does his best to ignore but finally can’t take anymore and pops worm after worm in the mouth of the babe.
It captivated me, this bluebird drama, as I stood back and considered how much the scene resembles my own years-ago baby mothering and that of so many friends in the throes of such today. Parenting is hard. There are so many ways to get it wrong. And there are so few to get it right.
Love well, I’d think, and then I’d pace and worry. Love well, I still think now, andthat will be enough.
And yet the question remains.
Does love fly off?
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MY SOUTH CAROLINA LIFE is centered around the sweet pond on which our house and back yard sit. Through the big kitchen window I have a bird’s eye view of all the goings-on, and to get close to the action I merely need step out the side door or take a quick stair step run down to my studio, which is positioned (thrillingly) in the midst of the action.
All this perfect geography gives me the chance to spend the hours of spring All Up In the activity of the co-inhabitants of the little neighborhood. I could not be happier about this; I never get tired of watching the plants and animals as they quite literally come to life during this birth/rebirth season.
This year has been especially sweet.The pond is full again following a couple of long, sad years during which floods, improper sediment runoff management and Mother Nature’s insistence on returning things to their natural state combined to create rather a mess behind our house. But the cove has been restored and the whole of the animal kingdom–snakes, frogs, turtles, beavers, birds, fish, and ducks among them–the whole of the Bickley’s Pond animal kingdom and I are rejoicing.
MY BELOVED BLUEBIRDS are among them and together we’ve had a rather tumultuous time of it. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say I’VE had quite a time–to this day I can’t give you an accurate accounting of their first brood of the season. First there was the precious nest, then that one perfect blue egg, then the egg disappeared! And so the internet told me to build a Sparrow Spooker, which I did, fashioning my own emergency version. I watched and watched and watched until the second egg–which would now be Egg One–was laid. BAM I was out the door attaching said Sparrow Spooker to the box (this was per the internet’s very specific directions). By golly it worked! Or else it wasn’t needed in the first place, but either way that couple and I ended up with four gorgeous eggs the second time around. Mama kept them warm while Papa and I hung close and in no time at all we’d hatched two baby bluebirds with two left to go. It was time for a trip to the mountains, alas, so I left the raising of those two, maybe three, maybe four babies to their devoted and quite capable parents.
We were away just long enough that when we returned an opening of the nest box would have created a great risk of too-early fledging. I was also busy with work and other things and couldn’t keep as close an eye on the family as I’d have liked. Which resulted in some big worries, I have to say. I never saw the parents feed the babies, not even once, in the first three or four days we were home. I’d watch for a while, then go out and stand next to the box hoping at least to hear sweet bluebird baby chirps. I never did. But every time, without fail, those parents would come swooping down out of nowhere, very unhappy with me and my proximity to their nest, which made me very happy as I figured surely they were protecting their offspring.
Still there didn’t appear to be any feeding.
No feeding at all.
THEN I HEADED north again, this time on my own for a writer’s retreat in Kentucky. I left Tim in charge. He’s great about these things since he’s in the yard so much, humors me so much, and cares as much about such happenings as a normal person does. But let’s face it. I never can get him to hover quite as close as I’d like.
Still I’d hardly gotten my suitcase out of the car when I got this text from my thoughtful husband:
Soon as I got home we opened the box to sure enough find it empty but for one unhatched egg. That meant there were three little bluebird fledglings flying somewhere around Bickley’s Pond. Maybe? Tim had seen two, and we hoped for a third but we just didn’t know.
(SEE THIS IS WHY IT IS SO IMPORTANT TO KEEP A CLOSE EYE.)
WE WAITED FOUR or five days, then set about cleaning the box. This time when Tim opened it that last egg was also gone. (For the life of me I don’t understand how small birds accomplish that.) He removed the old nest, tidied up a bit in the box and left a clean house for Round Two, should these sweet parents decide it was a go.
A week later we found this.
There’s no Sparrow Spooker on top as the wind finally brought it to the ground and I’ve hardly had time to construct another. For one thing there is the other bird nest I must monitor. And the baby eagle. And the courting woodpeckers, and the goose families X2. And a big happy surprise right in my raised bed garden!
There is so much more to come on all these wonderful Bickley’s Pond developments.
For now I just go ’round skipping and thinking: Spring, I do adore you!
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Last summer I became enamored with the Cedar Waxwings that make their presence known in the great field behind our North Carolina place. I don’t know how I’d never noticed them in all the years of my bird obsession; for sure the high mountain altitude brings a different crop when compared with our flat South Carolina back yard, but still Waxwings are common and plentiful. And these beauties are difficult to miss. The crest flips up (isn’t that distinctive?), and the eyes are wrapped in the most fantastic, elegant black Zorro mask. It’s upper wings are tipped in a brilliant red, and the tail–it’s so fun–the tail looks as if it was accidentally dipped right down into a can of bright yellow paint.
Then just the other day I was standing at the kitchen window when I looked out to see a mass of birds in the tree on the edge of Bickley’s Pond. From the distance I couldn’t tell their make and model, so I grabbed my camera and stepped outside for a closer look. In one fell swoop all the birds took off for the Cope’s yard, where I got close enough for this.
Could it be?
It was the first time I’d noticed Waxwings in our back yard, and true to form they fascinated and delighted me.
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Several sweet bird couples live with us here on Bickley’s Pond, but none are more devoted than the finches. They are demonstrative little creatures who, when courting time comes around each Spring, are not shy in stating their intentions.
But theirs is also a full time love.
Several times each year one or the other finds its way onto our giant screen porch where it becomes more and more panicked in its (in)ability to find a way out. We humans do our best to assist, propping open the door and attempting to shoooooo the bird in the right direction.
(This never works.)
And so the frightened little bird flits around from one column to another, clinging to this screen and that, not making a single rational decision about what might be the best course of action in making a way out.
And then love wins.
The devoted mate appears.
Inevitably the devoted mate appears, and from the outside in, coaxes and calms in the sweetest bird voice until she steadies, looks around, and finally finds her way back out the door.
Oh, courting is lovely and sweet.
But having a mate who is there for you in the crazy times–when you are irrationally afraid, or ridiculously wound up, or simply overwhelmed by the events of an otherwise ordinary day–that, my friends, is love.
Happy Valentine’s Day to you.
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He was just sitting there. For the longest time, just sitting there.
Not standing. Not flitting around. Not doing anything.
I was a bit mesmerized, I don’t mind telling you.
I’d never seen a bird do that, plop down on the squirrel guard and just hang out there. Not in all the years of looking out the big kitchen window, not in all the thousands–or tens of thousands–of bird sightings there.
Was he okay?
I watched, and waited.
Finally, he turned to me.
Yes, of course.
And so I turned and left him to it.
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