As those of you who have been reading here for the past year know, I occasionally decide to write about somewhat personal, non-political subjects – just to provide a form of superficial relief from the genuine headline (as opposed to mainstream media ‘headline’) stories of the day. Today, feeling somewhat discouraged by the most recent mountain of evidence as to the non-representative nature of modern American government, the increasing threat represented by Islamic terrorism, and the myriad of other less-than-uplifting considerations that depress the conservative mindset, I decided to resort to composing a more superficial essay. If you’re just here for political commentary, you may want to skip this one. :)
About a month ago, my husband and I were sitting out on our front porch and noticed a small bird (an Eastern Phoebe, it turns out) carrying something to place atop the shutter located in the most sheltered area at the far end of the porch [behind the center column in the photo above]. Mesmerized by her industry and determination, we spent much of the next two days watching her flit from the woods that surround our house to that sheltered shutter-top. She must have made fifty or more trips to her nest-under-construction, carrying all manner of mud, dried grass, moss and dog hair (courtesy of Bert, our four-year-old flat-coated retriever) in her tiny beak on each return trip.
It took her about a day and a half to build a beautiful, sculpted, symmetric nest above our shutter – at which point she then began sitting in her beautiful creation in order to lay her eggs.
She sat for close to a week, with her ‘husband’ (Phoebes generally mate for life) faithfully assuming the job of feeding her as she sat. He would bring all manner of bugs, beetles, and ugly things with many legs to her, transferring them from his tiny beak to hers, as she dutifully kept their eggs warm.
One morning we noticed that there were tiny, barely discernible chirping voices emanating from that little corner nest, with both mom and dad now assuming the duty of feeding four little fuzzy bodies with enormous gaping ‘Feed me!’ mouths.
From dawn till dusk those two parent birds searched the woods for insects -- they were untiring in their constant hunting, and flying home with their prey. At night, the mother would continue to sit atop her babies in order to keep them warm – with the father presumably bedding down in a nearby tree at the edge of the woods. Then, at the crack of dawn the next morning, the entire feeding ritual would begin again.
[These two devoted parents never read a ‘how to’ book, never attended parenting classes, and didn’t hire surrogates to do the leg work for them. We humans could re-learn a lot from these two tiny Phoebes who have been spared the ravages of feminist doctrine. :)]
Those of you who know me well know that I am a ‘night person’ – often not going to bed before 1 or 2 AM. So those of you who know me well will be amazed to know that I became so enamored of this bird couple that I would awaken sometimes as early as 5 AM and quietly make my way out to the front porch bench in order to witness the beginning of each day’s feeding ritual. Mom and dad eventually got used to seeing me there, and behaved as if I were as much of a porch fixture as the bench on which I sat.
After about a week and a half, and as abruptly as it began, the feeding ritual ended.
Shortly after 5 AM on a Thursday morning I watched mother fly from the nest and into the woods. But this time she did not return with breakfast. Mother had decided that, on this day, her babies themselves would learn to fly. So this morning, she simply sat in a tree on the edge of the woods and called to them … and called … and called ...
At first, they simply sat in their nest, quietly waiting for their first morning bug. But gradually they appeared to realize that mom was not going to be feeding them today.
About an hour after his mother’s first ‘come to me’ call, the most courageous of the young Phoebes perched himself on the rim of his nest, peered into the woods, and then flew to his mother with the grace of a bird that has been flying for a lifetime. The courage and instinctual agility represented by that singular event was something I’ll never forget.
After that beautiful initial exhibition of nature at its finest, I had to leave my spectator porch-position for about an hour and a half. When I returned, there was only one baby remaining in the nest – two of his brothers/sisters having followed the lead of the most courageous of the siblings during my absence.
Mother was still calling, but her straggler child was apparently suffering from a serious case of fear of the unknown … or stubbornness.
I sat on the bench once again and watched the reluctant straggler-baby. Finally … begrudgingly … he, too, perched himself on the edge of his nest, sat there for a few minutes in order to muster the courage to join his family, flapped his little wings a time or two, and then proceeded to fly head-first into the large beam at the top front edge of the porch. The loud ‘Bonk!’ was enough to make me wince and close my eyes for just a second, for fear of what I would see next.
But that little bird did not fall to the ground. He simply lowered his trajectory by a couple of feet, and flew, somewhat wobbly but still determined, into the woods to his mother.
Completely without warning, my eyes welled up with tears. To this day, I don’t know why. But my best guess is that it must have been a combination of joy at having been privileged to spend several weeks of my life witnessing a beautiful natural event – one that has occurred, without revision, since the dawn of time. And I suppose that a part of me also knew that I was going to miss those little uninvited critters who had shared our house with us. It’s been two weeks since they left, and I still look at their little empty nest with something akin to a sense of loss.
Phoebes will return to the same nest, year after year. So, needless to say, we now have a little mud nest (somewhat the worse for wear, but prepared to be viewed as a ‘fixer upper’ next spring) permanently ensconced in the most sheltered corner of our porch. And we are already looking forward to the return of the phoebes next year. :)
[Apologies for the poor quality of the photos herein. I did not want to ‘interfere’ with the family, so I tried to be as unobtrusive as possible when taking the few pictures that I did, which did not allow for much focus-time or set up.] :)