Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Empty Nest. Literally. (5.25.09)

One of the greatest gifts that came my way recently was a gift of nature.  A couple of robins who built a nest, just outside my kitchen window.  Where vines had twined up a trellis we put on the outside wall many years back.  And the twining vines had just left a perfect spot for these robins to build a nest. 

When they built it, the leaves weren't even out.  Just the twisting strands of vines from years and years.  A perfect spot.  In a little corner where the dining room juts out just a bit from the house.  A place safe from the north and west winds.  Where the morning sun would hit the nest and shine most all day long onto the stone walls, that would warm beneath the sun, radiating heat long after sunset. 

We watched them bring nest material for a week or so.  The female nestling into her space, moving her body to smooth it out, making sure it was safe and snug for herself.  And for the eggs she would soon be laying. 

We never saw the eggs.  The nest was just above the height of the kitchen window.  We even lowered the shade a bit, when she was nesting, so she wouldn't be frightened by two people wandering around the kitchen.  She was very watchful.  And skittish at times.  But once she began to sit, she was faithful to her nest.  A touching sight to see.

All of this began about a month or so ago.  Just about the time I wrote some very painful blogs about torture.  I took it as a blessing that nature brought me these two birds, just when I needed a sign from heaven.   A comforting sign from Mother Nature in my time of painful writing

I watched as she would get up and seemed to turn the eggs.  And poke around in the nest.  Making sure everything was just as she wanted it to be.  I kept watching in fascination.  We've had other birds nest nearby.  But in bird houses, where you see them come and go, but don't see much except the coming and going.  But this was different.  The nest was open - and it was right outside my window.  Just feet away!

One weekend, a couple weeks back, I could see the female looking down.  And then, at a certain point, I saw her feathers move from beneath her.  And a tiny beak poked out.  Still, there was no way to know how many.  Or much at all.  For may days, at least a week or more, even when it was clear the birds were feeding their young, the female continued to nestle over her chicks, keeping them warm, making sure no predator could find them or get at them.  Indeed, the nest being protected by two sides of the house, she had chosen well.

And then, finally, little heads were visible.  I was sure of one.  Then two.  Then three.  Then four!

Eventually, they grew so big, last week, that the four of them were literally jostling one another for space.  I can see now how easily one can fall from the nest.  But not these!  The vines had leaved and the leaves and vines were so protective I was beginning to wonder if the birds might have difficulty flying from the nest.  The parents came more and more often.  It really was amazing.  Even though I know this happens all the time, everywhere, year after year.  This time was my time.  I could hardly tear myself away. 

So Saturday, when I spent all day writing up a long blog, I set up my computer at the kitchen table.  Where I could write and watch.  I tried not to miss a thing.  But at one point in the afternoon, right about the time I was finally ready to post, one bird had somehow flown.

I had watched them stretch their wings and practice sitting on the edge of the nest, practice stretching their legs, even napping like that.  By Saturday they were so alert.  Hardly napping any more.  Looking around at everything.  Looking at me.  They looked at me quite a lot.  No fear.  Just interest.  It's kind of amazing to see a baby bird, watching you from its nest.

So one had flown.  I later located it because a parent had gone to feed it in the hedge.  I redoubled my efforts to watch.  Because I wanted to see one fly from the nest.  A second managed to elude my vigilance.  But now I knew what would happen first.  Now I could see that the little birds, far from starting off right from the nest, would jump/fly to a tiny vine near the nest.  And fly from there. 

Finally, chick number three flew when I was watching.  It was really a thrilling sight!  A parent robin was waiting on the tree-swing.  And flew directly to feed her chick.  (I'm guessing it was "her" but really, I don't know.)  The little chick fell off its branch in an effort to get the worm.  But she quickly flew down and fed it in the ground cover; it didn't fall more than a couple of feet.  And it later managed to get back on a branch.

That was yesterday morning.  By the time I got back in the afternoon, the nest was empty.

It's empty still.  Though I expect Mrs. Robin will soon show up and lay more eggs and go through the same routine again.  I'll still be fascinated.  This time I'll know more what to expect.  But something tells me it never be the same - as the very first time.

Eventually, when the robins get bigger, I expect I'll see Mr. Robin leading them around the back yard, once they're big enough to look for food themselves.  I'll think of them as "my robins" and feel a certain sense of pride in having seen them through from the very start of their lives.

I've read that only 25% of eggs laid and hatched survive by the end of summer.  That makes me sad.  But that is nature's way.  I hope these have a good chance to make it!



It's nice to see you posting about something so wondersome and awe-inspiring and lovely, Thera.
Thank you so much for your birds-eye view of nature at its best.
I've been thinking of writing this blog for a month. It's been playing like a tune in my head.
So glad you like it! :-)
Lovely! Birds rawk!
Once when my daughter was four or five, we found a baby bird on the lawn. I knelt down and cupped my hands and it hopped right into them. They are fearless lil things! This one looked too young to even try to fly, so we got a box and a ladder and put it up out of harms way into a tree. a few hours later we checked and it was gone. I do hope the mother bird found it and got it home somehow. I have had the awesome privilege of nursing sick hummingbirds and even a sparrowhawk back to health. I guess they tend to find chickens when they get into trouble.
I do hope the Robins come back and after the parents age that other Robins find it. I can't think of a person that deserves a gift like that more than you.
Bwak, I've literally thought of you so, so often during this time. Every single time I've seen your user pic, it's reminded me of my birds. And brought me closer to you. I kid you not! Every time I saw her nesting.
Truly, this has been the most wonderful, wonderful gift! And you are part of it!
I've read robins will have 2 or 3 broods in a summer. And they can live from 7 to 14 years! Plus, I truly hope one of the little ones comes back and nests one day. If a nesting bird is not skittish seeing me, I'll guess it was one of "mine." (I read something just a week or so ago about how birds will get used to a person. If they get used to one, it's only to that one. It was some kind of experiment they conducted.)
Thank you, bwak, for everything you do. I mean that so sincerely. And for your kind words.
Yes, birds rawk! You especially, my dear. :-)
TheraP, what a lovely post. I felt almost as if I were there watching, along side at this timeless miracle. Your words have brightened my day. Thank you.
I'm so glad they did! I really am. :-)
Lovely post at just the right time.
Every year, mudwrens use the same nest, beneath the eaves on our front porch--which, of course, means we can hardly ever step foot out our front door in spring and summer without a birdy uproar--but I know the joy of watching the babies hatch and come of age.
There's nothing better to pull us out of ourselves and bring a breath of joy to a day of intense writing or anxious thinking or just life in general, than to lose ourselves in the natural world.
Oh, wrens! Yes, we had wrens one summer. That call of the male, over and over and over and over! And that male once chased a squirrel, pecked at it over and over. Would not that let squirrel get anywhere near the tree trunk!
We were sitting eating breakfast one Saturday morning, when two baby wrens landed on the window sill!
Thanks for sharing your memory. And jogging mine!
That call of the male, over and over and over and over!
Heh, gets a girl every time...

Male wrens build the nests. They build several. Then they seek a female via which nest someone prefers!
Don't you wish the men not only "called" but had several homes we could choose from?
This great. It makes me laugh. Why the 'pairing'? I think about that. The mallards out here stick together. the little ones have not arrived yet.
They seem to get along. The last few years I watch the train of little ones following mom and dad stays close on the lake. If you walk to close to them, the two adults start screaming and waving their wings...
You saw an entire brood, make it out of the nest.
I am still laughing.
Now you've really made me smile, dd! The thought of those ducks, getting mad at you. Thinking you were out to harm their little ones.
We have ponds and streams in parks nearby. I love to watch the ducks swim, especially once the baby ducks are following them. They are so cute!
Glad you liked this, dd! :)
There's a house in our neighborhood that has about 3 or so ducks. They gave them a baby pool and everything. I'm not sure if they are domestics or if they are kept, but they stick around and seem to have a good time in their little yard hopping in and out of the blue baby pool.
Ducks will sometimes choose to nest in yards. This is a great story! :)
I am partial to crows myself. There is one at work with whom I have been friends for almost ten years, but that is another story.
Over the last several years a lot of big trees have been chopped down in my neighborhood which forced a relocation of crows to my house and my neighbor's. We (between us) have a nice canopy of big trees. This has given us the privilege of watching how crows learn to fly. The parents fly to an adjacent tree and call and call the young until they get brave enough to kind of jump glide to the next tree. Then the parents move to another tree and call and call until the young try it again. Eventually they end up at their origination point. They then try calling from further away.
Quite the process all in all.
In watching them, it has become clear why they need stands of trees to nest in. It makes me even angrier about the destruction of forest - including urban forest. But it also makes me glad that I have had the privilege of watching them, and being friends with one very smart crow.
That story reminds me of my sister. She and her husband once owned an island. An island surrounded by islands, owned by the nature conservancy. They built a summer home (themselves), a simple structure. And across from them was another small island with the most prolific pair of eagles - for raising young - in Maine. Many, many summers they watched with binoculars as the eagles nested, and fed, and finally trained young eagles, not just to fly but to find food. They would take them out on training flights.
I never saw that part. But one time, when we visited, there was a solid week of fog! Quite the vacation experience, let me tell you! Fog that blew sideways with the wind. Fog that hid everything. Well, one day, one of the eagles came and sat in a tree outside the vacation cottage. (picture a big room with a stairway to the big room in the attic - sort of divided by a little bit of furniture, a table and chairs, a couch, maybe a lounge chair - and cardboard around "the privy" - a large plastic container with a toilet seat upon it)
Ok, so I was sitting at the table, maybe the others were out - walking around the island, which was 5 or 7 acres, depending on the tide - when I spied this eagle in a pine tree outside the kitchen window. I spent a solid hour observing the eagle. Not sure it observed me at all. Its gaze seemed to be upon the distance. Maybe keeping watch on its mate in the nest?
But what a privilege - that hour with the eagle! Magnificent at the top of the tree!
Crows are said to be among the most intelligent of birds. Did you know that adolescent crows stick around? And help the parents feed subsequent broods of young? That's why you tend to see them in groups.
Thanks for your part of the story. (If we keep this up, we can become ethologists too!)
Thanks again for that wonderful creation story. And if you haven't read it, here's a link to the greatest creation story ever told:
Thank you for sharing the eagle story. They are truly magnificent. Most folks who see them from afar can miss the magnificence of them. They are HUGE.
Yes, I know about crow intelligence having, and have experienced it on a regular basis. Now I am getting a hard nudge to write about "Spot" the crow who has decided to strike up a long term relationship with me.
Thanks for the "plug" on my story. It is a kind of creation story though most might miss that piece. I am pleased that you did not.
I love the crow symbols!
Ooooh, I can't wait to hear about Spot!
And... when you have time.... get going on the Animals that own the Harry Potter characters! ;)
Now those are a bit more than "animals" as they are of the "old race" that superceded humans. I wonder if I would run into intellectual property right issues with Rowley? It would be considered a derivative work. I may have to contact here and work a deal first.
Go for it! :)
Nothing gets me back to reality and basics more then watching nature, and the cycle of life, at work. Great story Thera it brought a big :) to my face.
I'm so glad it did, Libertine! :-)
For the second year in a row we have been home to a few Baltimore Orioles...brilliant orange and black plumage of the males during mating season. The bag like nest they make is remarkable. Hidden in a tangle of willow branches. After every strong storm we had last summer we would rush out to make sure our new friends hadn't been blown into the next county.
We have tray feeders out all year. Thistle seed for the bright yellow goldfinches, sunflower seed for the grosbeaks, jays, chickadees and song sparrows...all the 'little spirits' come for a nosh. Oh, and nectar for the hummers.
Bwak's bluebirds stop for a visit on their way to other places. We have hawks fly over, as well as the turkey vultures. Then there are the Canada geese, and migrating ducks, blue herons and sand hill cranes. There was a pair of bald eagles for a while, but we haven't seen them for a few years.
Okay...I'm bird rambling here.
Oh, yeah...there be robins here too! :o)
Thanks for the tour of your neighborhood! Though we live in a city suburb, we've got nearby parks. And we do see a lot of wildlife and birds. But not to the degree you do. We've seen hawks though. And birds migrating. Orioles rarely. But just this evening we had a bunny in the grass. We've had foxes run through, coyotes occasionally, deer quite a lot, though not so many now, and all the usuals - squirrels and chipmonks.
I love watching birds and animals. I think most people do.
Thanks so much for telling us about your feathered friends. :)
Thanks so much for sharing your robin story with us. My daughter and family are eagerly awaiting the robin nest on their deck to fill with little wee ones. An experience everyone should be able to have in their lifetime. You were so fortunate that your miracle of life happened when you needed it most.
How right you are! And thanks so much for visiting here. :)
I hope your daughter and family enjoy their robins as much as we enjoyed ours.
Thanks TheraP for this post,this is my last read for tonight and this just seemed to be so relaxing to me, something to sleep on. Can I tell a bird story first,pleeease? I work at a 2 story building and have to go up on the roof sometimes. The roof is covered in river rock about the size of golf balls.There are scissor tail birds who make their nest in the rocks.In the midst of these stones will be perfectly round little nests lined with tiny smooth white stones,beautiful really.How the mother moves those stones which are the same size as her or where she gets these tiny stones I don't know, but it has to be a lot of work. If you get close to her nest when she has eggs or chicks, she will fly a few feet away and go into a wounded dance. That is, she sticks out one wing and goes round and round squawking and limping as if she is wounded, this to draw danger to herself and away from her babies.I think this bird is so cool and can teach us a thing or two. Ok, ok lights out.
Thank you so much, Don, for that wonderful story! Now you're going to have me wondering all day about how they get the tiny smooth white stones up there and into the nests! I may look it on the web.
I hope you slept well after reading this.
Peace be with you.
Fellow birders, here's a movie for you:
I first learned about this from a friend in Massachusetts who, like me, has a pet parrot. My grey doesn't make tools, except in the sense of playing us. But he converses with us and comments on what he observes. They are strange and wonderful animals.
Oh, and yes adolescent birds do stick around and "nanny" the fledglings in the flock. The flock is what matters to prey birds, I guess in the Darwinian sense of survival.
Nice optimistic post, TheraP.
So glad you enjoyed it! Well, eagles are predators and they don't flock. Nor do hawks. Sorry to disagree on that thesis. And crows are omnivorous I believe. They'll eat grain. Carrion. Etc.
Glad you enjoyed the post. Birds are fascinating. On of the most interesting bird experiences we had was by some cliffs in New Foundland. We spent some wonderful hours there late in the day, watching the birds fish and bring food to the young. It was a madhouse on that cliff. We were safely at the top, looking down. Quite the experience!
I was not referring to predators. Prey birds. Them what gets eaten by the eagles and hawks and whatever gets its food by means of predation. Here:
Greys seem to be omnivorous too, but they are prey birds.
Sorry I misunderstood. Yes, I know that many birds flock together. Sparrows for sure.
Good news! The female robin has just been checking out the nest again! I'm thrilled! :-)
She must feel safe to nest so near. Let us know how many little gaping beaks you spot in a bit. We hear and see Robins here, but the California towhee appears more often on our neighborhood walks and around our patios. You are so lucky, Thera. I love the robin's vesper song.

Dear TheraP,
Thanks for sharing your robins with your readers. MY robins love to pick our few ripening decorative strawberries from my garden, which is fine with me; they need them more than I do.
Recently, while traveling along Interstate 80, I stopped at a wayside in the middle of the afternoon, and I heard a robin's sunset song. A mystery. Then I passed under a low hanging bare elm branch upon which chubby reddening, I guessing adolescent, male robin was discovering his voice. Such earnest pride.

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