As you know, we recently hosted a Robin family on the ledge of a window of my room. They’ve been gone a couple of weeks now, but we still think and talk about them. That first day after they all left was very quiet and just a bit sad. They were separated from us by many degrees of species-dom and by a window, but there watching them was more like looking in a mirror than through glass.
Surprising, beautiful new life.
The eggs weren’t laid on Easter, but it was on Easter that our neighbor pointed out, “We think you have a bird’s nest on your window!” – and so, it was the day on which we discovered these gorgeous, perfect eggs – Easter eggs.
Helpless and dependent.
Sorry. They were. Not a judgment!
But, my goodness. That yellowish skin, rubberband necks and pretty scary eyes that dominated their little heads?
Songbird babies are altricial – that is, they are hatched completely helpless, in contrast to precocial (rooted in a word meaning “precocious”) birds who are hatched more matured and able to walk and obtain their own food, once it’s shown to them.
See! You learned something!
Speaking of which…
As you can imagine, this was an amazing learning experience. We watched, we observed, we wondered, we asked, and we learned. The best life science class ever.
Why do the babies stay in the nest? How do they know? How do their feathers grow? When will they open their eyes? What do they eat? Will another animal come eat them?
Five days after the first two hatched, the change is amazing to see. They’ve not just grown bigger, but are transforming. What most fascinated me were the development of the wings – compare these with the little stubs they begin with – and the feathers. It all happened so quickly, you can see why they must eat all the time..it almost looks painful. It put in mind of horror movies where someone suffers strange attributes popping out all over his body.
This photo says it all – all about parenting, don’t you think? Cross-species, at any age?
The parents were just as interesting to watch as the babies. Both mother and father brought food, which was primarily worms and berries. Joseph said he saw a bee being fed to them once. If they were coming with food and saw one of us at the window, they wouldn’t land, but rather fly quickly away to a nearby branch. They didn’t get too upset (in contrast to the mockingbirds at the front of the house, who regularly and violently chase after squirrels who venture too close to what I presume is a nest somewhere in a cluster of vines), but simply sat on that branch, waiting and chirping. It seemed to me as if the adults definitely communicated vocally with each other when this happened, as if one was asking, “All clear?” and the other responding, “Not yet!”
(In order to get close-ups while they were feeding, what I did was to just set up a stepladder in front of the window. That way there was a standing structure there all the time which they could get accustomed to seeing as just part of the landscape. If I saw that it was feeding time, I’d just stand on the ladder with my camera pointed down, and wait, never for very long.)
One of my readers reflected that this might be what we look like to God – always hungry, needy, begging.
Trust your instincts
One of the most astonishing aspects of observing natural life, to be sure. Such a mystery, this thing called instinct.
The instinct that tells them to crane their skinny elastic necks and open those beaks when they feel a jolt on the edge of the nest. That tells them to stay put in that same nest, even as they crowd each other, must lie atop of each other and are slowly gaining the ability to move on their own. Still – they stay put. All day, every day, they sit in the nest, little growing balls of fluff, waiting. As their eyes opened and they grew more aware, they began to watch for the parents, and follow their movements in the trees and on the ground.
But still, they remained. They knew it was not yet time to go.
(Except for the one that I’m thinking got blown out of the nest one blustery night a couple of days before this picture was taken…)
You’re ready. Go.
But then one day, like clockwork – or instinct – it is time to go.
I had worried about the baby birds before this day, because even though they waited with great patience most of the time, I could see their restlessness and watch them stretch and flap their wings. I could see an accident happening, and that they weren’t quite ready to make it.
But then this day came – and they were. As I wrote at the time, it took about 45 minutes. One ventured to the edge of the nest, teetered a bit, then tumbled/flew to the ground. Then the next, and finally, only this sibling was left. He remained in the nest alone for about ten minutes. He chirped, sat in the nest, popped up to the edge, then back down, then finally up – and down.
I could see them all for much of the rest of the day in the back yard, following one of their parents around, pecking at the ground. I try to avoid anthropomorphizing the whole thing, but I swear, down there, those little ones really did seem…excited.
As if this is what they had been waiting for, as if this freedom to go, to be, to…fly – was what all the preparation, the resting, the growing, the endless eating, the watching and waiting had been all about.
Which, of course, it was.
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