The Case of the Missing Bluebird Egg

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.

Dang it.

 

Mama and the spooky Sparrow Spooker

 

And then there were babies!

 

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.

 

pretty Mama

 

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.

 

Then 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!

XXOO

 

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A Wing And A Prayer

baby1

I hope you will remember this photo for a long, long time. Take a good look; hold the image tight in your heart where its glory can root and lay claim. It is one of the baby bluebirds, you see, one of the miracle babies, now four days out of the nest.

They took flight while I was elsewhere, doing other things, and so I don’t have a full report. Just bits and pieces, snippets here and there, a story pulled together one thread at a time, a story so filled with assumption who even knows. And yet it is all we have, you and I, fellow travelers in a remarkable journey of love, and loss, and liberation. And so we shall bravely go there together, into the final (?) chapter of an unlikely tale, the saga of the bluebird babies who came into this world—we might as well say it—on a wing and a prayer.

~~~~

This was the scene six days ago, two days after that awful birdhouse attack that left the nest overturned and the babies in a listless, unmoving pile. But we righted the nest and the parents came and the babies rebounded and we rejoiced!

 

three
One! Two! Three!!

 

This is what we know for sure:

  • There were, in the beginning, five eggs.
  • Four babies were born, a substantiated fact.
  • At least three babies (see above) survived the attack.
  • While three survivors was more than enough reason to rejoice, still I prayed and prayed and prayed that when they fledged, there would be four.

This is what made me believe:

  • The parents fed those babies every 10 minutes, no exaggeration.
  • The routine was always the same.
  • From the perch, fill the big, hungry, demanding, extruding mouths. (See below.)
  • Then go completely into the nest, and in 30 seconds or so, fly out again.

Surely that meant there were one or two little ones inside there. Surely that was evidence Mama and Papa were providing for everyone—even the least strong of the family.

 

Mama
so many mouths to feed
I haven't forgotten about you.
I see you in there.

 

~~~~~~~

I came home on Saturday after a full day out. Tim was sitting on the deck by the water when he said Oh! Did I tell you? I think the babies flew!

I ran for my camera so fast I didn’t even get the whole story. He may have said something like two of them or there were three or who knows? And then I was on the patio and I saw the Papa in the Crape Myrtle and the flash of a baby just to my right, on a low branch of the Redbud Tree.

Hey baby I said as I tiptoed nearer. Look at you.

 

final
Harry?

 

And there he was, so uncertain all I wanted to do was reassure him, to rub his head and say I am so proud and what a miracle you are and how marvelous it is that the whole world is in front of you. 

And then he flapped his wings and made a move to fly but instead, clumsily landed on the pine straw below.

 

baby2
Harry.

 

I love you little guy I said and he looked back at me and this time he flew off, his sights set on a more distant tree.

I watched and waited, waited and watched in hopes of spotting his siblings. The parents were all about, that was for sure, fretting and hunting and calling. But I never saw him again. And I never saw his brothers and sisters.

After a long while, I made my way back to the birdhouse for a final look. I turned on the iPhone light and to my surprise there, just beneath the bird cutout opening, was the spread of a baby bluebird’s tail feathers.

There is still a baby in the nest! I said out loud, running for Tim. How many did you see fly? In my head I was sure there were three, so maybe this was the mysterious fourth baby, in need of some extra growing time.

I didn’t see them leave so I don’t really know, he said.

The parents didn’t return to the nest Saturday night, best I could tell, and I didn’t see them Sunday morning. I got up early to watch, knowing it was prime feeding time. With no sight of them I made my way over to the nest, praying praying praying I would find it empty, that the last baby had fledged sometime during the night. But the tail feathers were still there; there hadn’t been any change at all.

~~~~~~~

I know how I should feel about the miracle of the fledglings: immense gratitude and joy and hopefulness. I know I should trust that the parents knew what to do, that the remaining baby was not simply forgotten. (In fact, I do know this.)

Still my heart longs for more. I want to know how many are out there, how many made it. I want to know if the last little bird was #4. I want to know what happened, why—even though its tail feathers look fully developed—the last nestling never made it out of the die cut bird opening of my silly decorative bird house.

~~~~~~~

And so let’s make the story our own, shall we? Let’s agree that right this moment, just there in the woods at the curve of the cove, Baby #1 (Harry!), Baby #2 and Baby #3 are having a glorious afternoon flying and landing and swooping and hopping and laughing, all together.

And just in the distance is their mother, quietly watching. Knowing this victorious day is one for pure joy, but feeling all the same it happened too soon. The days flew too fast, the time with her babies—precious and holy—passed much too quickly.

 

IMG_8020
keeping watch

 

The Bluebird Story, start to finish

April 23, 2014  Surprise, Surprise, (Surprise, Surprise, Surprise)!

April 28, 2014  The Good, The Bad, and the Oh My

April 29, 2014  UPDATE!!! (OR Day 27)

April 30, 2014  Panic: Day 2

May 1, 2014  Day 3: (Happy) Drama

May 4, 2014: There’s Something About Harry.

May 6, 2014: Baby Bluebirds, the movie

May 8, 2014: And So On.

May 11, 2014: Sometimes, you just have to shout.

May 14, 2014: Heartbreak. And a Little Joy.

May 19, 2014: To Feed or Not to Feed.

 

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To Feed or Not To Feed. That is the Question.

I stopped filling the bird feeders, so worried was I about the bluebird babies. I read that House Sparrows, for instance, can act rather ugly when they learn of a bluebird nest nearby. But with our babies more stable, my conscience began to nag me about the many full-time Bickley’s Pond residents who rely on our bird seed and, more specifically, how—without it—they would teach their own fledglings (of course there are others, right?) to feed.

And so I made my way outside and filled them both: (1) sunflower seeds for the cardinals, and (2) wild bird seed for the little ones.

(It was not a comfortable thing to do. Aside from my constant worry over the bluebirds, there is the matter of the snake now living in the bed just at the base of the feeders.)

It didn’t take long to know I had made the right decision.

Is that a purple finch?
Is that a purple finch?
Is that a baby???
Is that a baby???
I'm thinking yes!
I’m thinking yes!

I did keep a close eye on those bluebirds, believe you me, and before I could say “Saturday” the nest was nearly empty and there were little fuzzy balls in flight.

Well, sort of.

That story is coming up.

And so on.

There have been other happenings here on Bickley’s Pond, a fact that may surprise you as I have been so focused on those baby bluebirds and on all it has taken their Mama and Papa and me to keep them safe and well fed and properly photographed. For instance, my sweet neighbor and friend, Stephanie, discovered a nest of squakers right underneath their deck stairs, safe and dry and hungry. How thrilled I was when she sent me this photo.

next door babies
this nest is a work of art, right?

(I made my way over there the first moment I could and lo and behold the nest was empty—those babies had already flown the coop!)

I have kept my eyes on the ducks, as well. Do you remember the Rock ‘n Roll ducks with their crazy pouffy heads? You couldn’t have fit a 12″ ruler between those two, devoted as they were to each other. Well, several days passed and I saw no sign of the couple. And then I was sitting out on the down-by-the-water deck when I noticed a gaggle of assorted ducks swimming out from behind Rodney’s dock. Following just behind was one of the white crested ducks. It was obvious he was hesitant to get too far from the shore.

lonewhite

I’ll bet there are eggs I said out loud, my heart a little thrilled. I’ll bet she’s sitting on a nest.

The very next day I spotted the Canada Goose couple, the ones who spend nesting season here every year. Over the years we’ve raised several broods together, those geese and I, including clutches of seven, five and three.

our little family, circa 2010
our little family, circa 2010

They were way across the water so I pulled out the big zoom lens and hoped for the best. Sure enough I could make out one baby. I felt a little sad for the couple, knowing how precarious it is to try keep a family safe on this lake what with eagles and hawks and snakes and gigantic starving turtles there just below the surface of the water. How many have they already lost I wondered.

onebaby

 

And the next time I saw them, there was no baby at all–just a big, empty space between them.

wide-open

That’s when I realized I hadn’t seen either of the white crested ducks in over a week. Perhaps their nest was not successful. Perhaps they have packed up and moved on.

There has been good news. First, the baby bluebirds continue to thrive. Their devoted parents must be exhausted trying to get enough food to keep them full and happy.

hunt, hunt, hunt
hunt, hunt, hunt
Anybody hungry???
Anybody hungry???
YES!!!

 

And then there is this, the most wonderful of all.

 

monkeys
I cannot believe she is 21!

My own sweet baby, home for college. We spent three days together on a little mini work/vacation in Key West.

duo

It. Was. Glorious.

 

Panic. Day 2.

I wish you could have been here when it happened, this most crazy of occurrences. I was standing in the kitchen chopping dill when I turned to open the refrigerator door. In the middle of that movement I caught an impossible glimpse of a good-size feather falling just outside the big screen porch. And then some small downy feathers, feathers that attached briefly to the screen and then, blown by the wind, lifted off again to continue their slow descent to the brick patio below, the site just in front of the bluebird nest.

(How is it even possible that I was right there, and that I turned to see those feathers, right at that very moment? Ordinarily I would have found the whole thing miraculous, a message to me from God and the universe. But considering all the animal kingdom drama of late, and my nerves, “miracle” is not the thought that came to mind.)

I ran for my shoes and down the stairs toward that nest, terrified at what I would find.

Through the big window, the birdhouse appeared undisturbed. And so for the second day in a row, I held my breath and opened the door to step outside. Right there in front of me was this.

two-feathers

I couldn’t see the babies, as the nest is tucked into the dark cavity of the decorative birdhouse. But the Mama did not come flying out (as she typically does when I come near the nest). My heart started to beat faster.

I walked into the yard.

one-feather

Another and another and another. I gathered them all.

collection

Could they be bluebird feathers? I prayed not. I thought not, as large (and not blue) as they were. But still I was crazy with worry.

I walked over to the birdhouse and put my iPhone to the opening. I snapped three or four shots with the flash on.

When I looked at the camera roll, I rejoiced!

mama-day

There was Mama, safe and sound. Hooray!

Surely that means the babies are fine. Right?

Right.

And what about all those feathers?

I walked around the yard looking for clues. I noticed two morning doves sitting uncharacteristically on the pitched roof of our house. I wonder if they have a nest up there, and if, perhaps, the hawk paid it a visit. It makes me very sad.

Nevertheless. This is Day 2 for our newborn bluebird chicks, and all in all,

All is well.