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 have been surprised to see them there, the bluebirds who have spent a good amount of time hanging around the official* house and the snake** house in recent days. Most often they come in late afternoon when they also enjoy the buffet of creepy crawlies they find in our yard. But now, to tell you the truth, there are so many bluebirds I’m not sure which I’m seeing!
This is a good thing.
Just a couple of days ago I was doing a little writing on the screened porch when out of the corner of my eye I saw a flutter of activity. I leaned forward for a closer look and spotted this.
I will not write about the bluebirds in my next post. I’ll share something with a little more depth, more substance. Less obsession.
Until then, though, we won’t even consider this a real post. It’s just a bonus weekend update. Because there’s news surrounding the bluebirds’ consideration of the new nest box, and I just have to share.
He’s been around a lot. Flying in. Flying out. Gazing with interest from the pretty scrollwork bench not four feet away.
She–not so much. One or two visits, none convincing in the least.
They have built another nest, my precious bluebird couple, in the bluebird box on our brick column. But just as last summer, she laid the eggs, incubated them only briefly, and now seems to have abandoned them.
It’s just about more than my heart can take.
I’ve studied up on the issue and don’t really know what is happening. It could be that a wren has gotten into the nest and punctured the eggs, although I can’t see evidence of that without removing them. I don’t dare touch as I still hold out hope she will return and by some miracle find them to be viable. It has been 10 days, which I know makes that virtually impossible.
I have seen her about on two or three occasions, poking for creepie crawlies down by the lake or clinging to the big tree on the side of our yard. I’ve seen a lot more of him, hanging out at the bird feeder in the early evening.
It’s a surprise to see him there because he doesn’t dine on the seed. He just sits on the crook and surveys the big back yard, then turns to face the house.
Perhaps he notices me there in the window. He seems to always take a moment to look me in the eye.
Hey there friend, I say. I’m here, cheering you on.
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I looked out the big studio window today and guess who was hanging about?
About that time a little Carolina Wren came flying from the wood stack there beside the brick column—the one that holds the new bluebird house. And the Papa Bluebird got ALL KINDA UPSET. So in spite of his fretting, I took a little peeksie in the little round hole.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
How will you ever write about this Eliza said in a quiet way that made it much more of a statement than a question. We were standing together looking down at the overturned birdhouse, and I could feel her heart breaking right alongside mine.
And so I took one more precious photo of the babies, wished them well, and along with Tim and Eliza, boarded a plane for Sarasota.
We made the return trip home four days later. Even though it was quite late, I headed right down those steps the moment we arrived, eager to get a look at the birdhouse through the big studio window. They’ll be so big! I thought. I hope they haven’t fledged already—I would be so sad to miss that! And thenI made my way to the window and looked in the direction of the nest.
There was nothing there, no birdhouse at all.
Oh No I thought.
I stepped back quickly and turned on the porch light, knowing my next move would need to be a trip outside. I was terrified of what I might see when I crossed over the door’s threshold. And sure enough there it was on its back, my bought-on-a-whim decorative green birdhouse, knocked to the ground two feet from the table on which it previously sat.
The cute little bird cut-out opening looked like a crime scene.
Oh my God I said out loud. What happened? Who did this? Are the parents around? Can the little ones still be inside? Is there a chance any of them survived?
And then I called out Hey babies, hey babies, are you in there?
There was no sound at all.
It took me a minute, I cannot lie, to look closer. But I knew I had to. And so I summoned both my courage and my iPhone light and shown it into the opening. There were birds in there, yes. But there was no sign of life.
I stood back a moment, in despair and disbelief. Where were the parents? What should I do?
I took one more look. This time I saw a tiny moment from one of the birds, a minute shift of the head and then breathing so slight I wasn’t even sure it was real. I bounded up the stairs.
Tim, Eliza, come help. Something’s happened to the nest. I’m afraid the bluebird babies are dead. And I ran back down, frantic, unsure, lost.
I didn’t know what to do. Should I try to get to the breathing baby, to remove him from that awful dark den? How would I even accomplish it? The only way in was through that small opening on the front, and surely I would further injure him in my attempt. Should I move the birdhouse itself?
You need to leave the baby where he is said Jay. But move the birdhouse back and set it upright. Put it where it was, so the parents can get to him. They’ll take care of it.
BUT I DON’T KNOW WHERE THEY ARE I nearly yelled.
It will be okay said Jay in a voice so sure and calm. The parents will know what to do.
And so we carefully uprighted the birdhouse and we put it right back on that table and I went to bed praying (without much hope, if you want to know the truth) that the little guy would make it through the night.
I woke up around 6am, when I heard the call of a bluebird. I grabbed my shorts and ran down the stairs, making my way slowly and quietly into the dark studio. I sat still as a statue on my stool in front of the window. The birdhouse was still on the table, still standing. At least that’s something I thought. About that time I saw the Mama bird just to the left of the porch, clinging to the brick column. There was no food in her mouth, but she was looking toward the nest. In short order she flew to the perch and put her head inside the opening.
She was there a long time—at least it seemed a long time, as I was holding my breath—and then she flew away. What did she see in there I wondered. What will she do next.
In no time she was back, and this time she went straight to the opening and disappeared into it. Then she was gone again.
I made my way quietly out the door and tiptoed toward the birdhouse. All at once I saw this little head and snapped the photo as quickly as I could.
Then it was time to get ready to go to work.
It was a long day away from that nest, unsure as I was to the goings-on there. When I finally got home this afternoon I found this joy.
(In fact, I believe there are four surviving birds, although that is currently unconfirmed.)
I continued to fret, and so dear Jay made his way down the street to help me relocate the birdhouse to a higher spot. It is now attached to the brick wall making it all but impossible for the offending beast (cat? raccoon? possum?) to knock it down.
How grateful I am for this latest miracle. How in awe I am that just as Jay said, the parents knew exactly what to do.
Thanks and praise, is what I say. Thanks and praise.
Thankfully, the storms never materialized. And while I haven’t seen the snake in three or four days, I did see sweet foo foo just last night, foo foo the brown bunny who is not the slightest bit skiddish about me or my camera.
I did spend some time down in the studio looking out the big window, hoping hoping hoping for a bluebird sighting. My heart longed for a little reassurance, just a glimpse of Mama or Papa coming or going, proof without intrusion that things are going okay for those babies.
It wasn’t long before she gave me the incredible gift of this confirmation.
It took me a minute to catch my breath. Then I did a little dance in my studio, happy to have the birds nest, happy the babies have made it to Day 3, happy to be reminded there is nothing on earth more powerful—or beautiful—than a mother’s love.