There are some experiences in life that come by chance, some by design, and some by a little of each. For the past few days I have been closely watching the sparrows nesting in the birdhouse tucked under the eaves of my shed.
I first heard the pip-pip-pip of newly hatched chicks two weeks ago today, as Kelly and I sat with Oliver in the back yard on his last day on earth. The next day, four hungry beaks appeared at the opening of the bird house, and mama and papa bird began the never ending task of feeding the babes. Then, about four days ago, mom disappeared (I suspect to lay another clutch of eggs - I had seen mama and papa mating on the fence, and I know they produce two or three clutches a year), and papa was left to raise the kids solo.
From first light to dusk, he flew back and forth, back and forth, feeding the hungry crew. By yesterday evening, he was looking rather worn out and bedraggled as his ever-demanding chicks needed more and more calories to maintain their growing bodies. And at least one of the chicks, the biggest, greediest, noisiest one, clearly felt he was grown up enough to seek out his own food. Dad didn't seem quite so sure.....
I dunno son, you're a bit young still. It's a long way to that apple tree.
You never let me do ANYTHING!
I should just leave!
This morning, at six o'clock, all the chicks were still there and dad was still feeding their voracious appetites. I went about my morning routine - shower, dress, feed dogs, feed self, check emails, tidy house - and at eight o'clock, when next I looked, the birdhouse was empty! I felt a wave of sadness that I had missed the big event, which I suspect started something like this:
The coast is clear - I'm outta here!
Dad! Roger's gone!
But no! I might have missed the launch, but I hadn't missed the flight. Four wee birds and their dad were fluttering in my apple tree, babies testing out their wings while dad chirped encouragement. Three were off in no time - I saw them fly over the tall back fence and land in a neighbouring tree, then wing from tree to tree before heading up up up up and out of sight.
But baby number four was not so courageous or adventuresome. She fluttered from branch to branch (I'm guessing a girl by her lighter colourings and fewer markings), her dad chirping at her to "Fly, Sally, Fly!". And then she tried - she really did - and landed ungracefully on a heap of dead weeds I had tossed on the compost heap. And Sally Sparrow sat there. And cried. And called. And peeped. Until finally her papa came. But the pictures tell the story much better than I can:
Where's my papa?
Now, dear, you can't stay here all day!
But I like it here!
Eventually, papa coaxed little Sally Sparrow to try her wings again - only to have her land ker-plunk on the crossboard of the fence:
Okay, Sally, first perch like this.....
Here, I'll get behind you and give you a little push....
And so papa bird flew off for a moment, and returned with...a treat!
Here's a treat for you - it will give you energy.
And a kiss for good luck!
C'mon, now, you can do it!
Sally, you can't run from your fears! Fly!
Big breath...one, two, three.....
And so she did...and landed right on the grass in front of Charley (who, fortunately, is a very good dog and stayed completely still).
I'z all alone!
Sure enough, papa stayed up on the top of the fence and watched while his little girl figured things out.
Eventually she flew into the tree and over the fence, papa following a short distance behind.
The inaugural flight of the baby birds was a magic moment in time, an event I had hoped to see but feared I wouldn't. It filled me with joy and laughter, with wonder and amazement. Papa attending to his young, watching over them yet encouraging independence. Papa taking the extra time with the slowest child, the most cautious child, the weakest child. An amazing display of parental guidance, parental patience.
The last little baby flew back to the apple tree a few more times today - and each time dad appeared a few minutes later. Sometimes he appeared on his own, checking the bird house to make sure the babes hadn't returned, twice nonchalantly drinking from the dog's water dish. Tonight the babes will likely rest their tired wings in the safety of bushes before venturing out to live their own lives, find mates, build nests, and repeat the cycle all over again.
And I'm betting that papa bird, like any parent whose child has left the nest, is worrying tonight - "Have I prepared them enough, are they ready for this?".
Not to worry, papa bird, your babies will be just fine. Good job!