[Preface: When I was facing an empty nest for the first time this year, people continually asked how I was feeling about it…and this post was born.]
This past spring, a Mama Bird very inconveniently built her nest in a wreath that hung on my shed doors. As soon as I saw it, I groaned.
“We are literally surrounded by trees! THERE IS A FOREST BEHIND US! Of all places! Why on earth would she build it HERE?”
But she did. And she wasn’t delicate about it. For days, we watched her purposefully trek back and forth with long strands of grass and bits of mud and leaves. The work looked exhausting, but she was relentless and it wasn’t long before she had it ready. I didn’t want to scare her, but any time I could get close enough to check it out, I was in awe of the sturdiness and precision. She had literally crafted this nest in preparation for her babies.
This nest that had started out as a complete and total nuisance to me became a source of daily fascination. Any attempts we made to go near the shed were met with loud, distressing chirps and vigilante-style protection by Mama Bird. She let you know immediately that you were venturing into her territory. She would fly about 15-feet away, perch on a branch nearby and watch with unrelenting eyes until we retreated. Then back to the nest she flew. After all, there were eggs in there now.
My God. The eggs. Her future flock. The most vibrant and beautiful blue you’ve ever seen. They were so perfect they hardly looked real. How did nature manufacture such a deep and unique color? No wonder the stakes were so high for her. She had a lot to lose. Even casual onlookers who kept their distance were barely acceptable. She made that perfectly clear: “Don’t come any closer. I’m not okay with it.”
I could hardly believe myself, the way I started talking to her, especially once those eggs had hatched and her babies were born. If I had to get something out of the shed, I’d walk up slowly and talk quietly and soothingly to her the whole way. “Hey Mama Bird. I see you. I see you guarding those beautiful babies. I’m not going to bother you or get too close. I just need to get something and then I’ll be out of your way. It’s okay. Your babies are safe. Ssshhh. I’ll only be a minute.”
Had I lost my mind? But I felt like I understood her. I didn’t want her thinking for one second that I was going to hurt her. Or them. If anything, I felt protective now and completely invested in how this whole thing was going to turn out.
One night during this time, a storm rolled in. I already told you– the spot she picked to build this nest was ridiculous. Way less than ideal. The roof line of the shed barely covered the wreath and nest, if at all. It was so exposed and out in the open. I had to suppose she may not have realized this until it was too late. She certainly couldn’t move it now. But this storm was intense. It was one of those spring thunderstorms where you can feel a charge in the atmosphere. Powerful gusts of wind. Branches bending and swaying. When the sky finally opened up, it was torrential.
The rain came down in sheets that night and I was beside myself. I stood quietly, watching out the window, so afraid for this Mama and her babies. I knew she was tough and would know what to do– it was literally in her nature to shelter and protect them. But still, all this wind and rain. I couldn’t bear the thought of something happening to them now.
I had read up on the nesting period of Robins. It took 13 days for eggs to hatch and another 7-10 for the babies to fly. She was only days away. Those babies were almost ready to leave the nest. I quietly cried at the window. She worked so hard to make that nest safe and strong. She laid those eggs. She sat with them, day and night. They had to make it through this storm. They just had to.
I fell asleep that night worried about the birds, and the next morning, I was almost afraid to look. Lo and behold, the sun was shining, and there sat Mama Bird. Strong and tall. Safe and sound. Proud. They had made it through the night. She and her babies were safe after the storm. She had made sure of it.
In the days that followed, we watched tender little birdies peek and poke their tiny feathered heads out of the nest. Mama would fly away to find bits of food and return to feed and care for them. I kept wondering– How long will they stay? Surely they won’t all fit in there much longer. How does this work? How does she know when they’re ready to fly and survive on their own?
But somehow, it seemed, they just know. And so does she. They both know.
And then one day, before I even realized what was happening, they were gone. The nest was empty. She had done her job. And now they would do theirs. Fly. Live. Explore.
There’s so much for them to see and experience. Sure there will be storms for them, but they’ve watched the Mama. They know what to do. And there are lots of sunny days, too. So many sunny days.
A few weeks later, I was out near the shed and there on the ground lay the nest. Cautiously, I picked it up. It was solid as a rock. There’s nothing flimsy and weak about a nest built by a Mama Bird. It’s funny. If you look at the wreath now, you’d hardly know a whole family had once lived there. But I know. I look, and I see it, and I remember.