Saturday, June 25, 2011

One who wouldn't fly, and one who flew too soon

As I worked on the garden earlier this week, I was entertained once again by the family of birds living in the birdhouse under the shed roof. As I finished off the second planter, papa and mama bird hopped around from fence post to fence post, from ground to wheelbarrow to roof, chirping noisily as they called to their two little ones in the nest to “fly, children, fly!”.

Papa bird chirps to babies

It was only a matter of hours before the first one glided smoothly down to the ground, then hopped up on the edge of my planter, up to the crossbar of the fence, and finally fluttered away with mama and papa singing and following at a distance as he or she found the way to the pear tree across the back lane.

Their encouragement from a distance reminded me of a poem in a book I had received when my daughter was born many years ago (which reminds me – Happy Birthday this Sunday, kiddo!). The poem, which I think was by Ogden Nash though can't find online to confirm, read:

I see him stumble on the rung
But do not run to get him.
He’s learning how to climb, and I
Am learning how to let him.

I repeated that mantra to myself, changing only the pronoun, a zillion times as my daughter learned to spread her wings and fly fly fly, and I am sure mama and papa bird were saying the same thing. And, just as I did, I bet they breathed a sigh of relief when junior was safely launched.

Back at the nest, a more reluctant young’un refused to come out. He (or she - they are too young to tell apart yet) refused to even stick the still fuzzy head out to check on his sibling’s whereabouts. He cried piteously, occasionally venturing near enough to the opening for his shiny eyes and funny beak to be visible, but never so far as to stand on the rim and prepare for flight.

I'z NOT comin' out!

The whole day long, his mom and dad flew back and forth, back and forth, from fence to birdhouse and back again. They refused to take him any food. They chirped loudly at him, maintaining a steady stream of encouragement. They demonstrated flight patterns for him.

Mama bird call's to baby

Eventually the mama bird took off, perhaps to keep an eye on the liberated fledgling, but papa kept working with the bird who wouldn’t fly. Papa would land on the little branch that sticks out the front of the bird house, stick his head in and talk to the little one. It was clear he was saying, "C’mon, you can do it! Here, watch me!" And he would take a short glide to the ground or to a nearby section of fence. Then he turned around to face his offspring and chirped loudly again. Offspring would cry back and then shrink back into the nest again.

Periodically, a flock of relatives would show up to lend a hand, four or five of them perched on the fence near the nest chirping and flittering and flying and singing to the baby in the nest.

Need some help there, George?  Hilda sent us to see if we can coax him out for you. 

And so on it went – all morning, all afternoon, and on into the evening. Adult birds singing encouragement and modeling the behaviour; baby bird refusing to come out. Mom returned just before dark, and the two parents conferred on the fence. Then mom flew off and returned with a beak full of nourishment which she finally fed to the starving youngster. After repeating this act a few times, mom took off, dad hopped into the nest with the babe, and all was quiet for the night.

At five the next morning, when I let the dogs out, the flight lessons had already resumed. Dad was noisily singing on the nearby fence, and babe was warily looking out the hole, but keeping the feet firmly inside.

Iz a scary world out there!!!
I chose to remain inside that morning so I wouldn’t interfere with flight training of this very nervous fledgling, checking from the window periodically. Sometime between 10 and 12 o'clock, the birdy flew the coop. After several hours of seeing no activity, I cautiously climbed up on a stool and peered in, to be sure the house was empty. It was. I took advantage of the vacancy to remove it, unscrew the bottom, and do a long overdue cleanout – last year, even in the middle of winter, there were always one or more birds in residence so it had not been cleaned for at least two years. I don’t know how that family of four managed in there – it was completely full to the roof with well-packed nesting material.

I cleaned out the old stuff, washed and scrubbed and screwed the house back together, and rehung it. Within an hour, a pair of sparrows (was it the same mama and papa or a different one?) were checking it out, and flying back and forth with straw and grasses, taking short breaks to do the hanky-panky on the arm of my Adirondack chair. I spread some cotton wool and dog hair nearby to help rebuild the nest, and by the next morning they had disappeared and the birdhouse looked full once more. And so the cycle begins again.

While I was watching the reluctant baby on Monday I also received some very sad news. Patti, the vibrant, smiling, nature- and animal-loving woman who had just recently started dogsitting for me, passed away after collapsing in her mother’s garden last weekend. Patti was a single mom of a 19 year old son - far, far too young a woman to leave this earth. The dogs and I often chatted to Patti and her mom, and her mom’s dog Etta, on the beach – there were very few days when I didn’t meet them down there this spring.

My heart goes out to the family – to her son Chris and mom Pat, and all others who loved Patti. Pat and Patti were best friends, always together, both sharing a love of dogs and a love of gardening. Mothers should not outlive their children, and teenagers should not have to grow into adulthood without moms. Crofton is a richer place for having known Patti, but oh she has flown away too soon.

Fly free little bird, as you go out into the big world. And fly free, Patti, fly free. May your spirit soar.


Anonymous said...

a beautiful post!

Black Jack's Carol said...

My heart goes out to all who loved Patti. As you put so beautifully in your post, "..may her spirit soar." I enjoyed the narrative and photos in this post very much, Jean. You caught a drama that unfolds over and over again at this time of year, but yet remains hidden from most of us. I especially loved the relatives stopping by to see if they could help out. The poem was interesting as well. I tried to google it but like you, couldn't find the words you quoted. Too bad - they make a lot of sense to teachers as well as to parents. Happy birthday to your daughter!

Funder said...

What a cute bird story! I'm so sorry to hear about Patti. She sounds lovely. :)