Thursday, June 15, 2006

An empty nest

Today has been a day of lessons on the wonder and cruelty of Mother Nature. As I had anticipated yesterday, our baby robins decided that today was the day to fly the coop. When I first awoke and came down to the kitchen, the biggest baby was sitting on the very edge of the nesting box and was looking to take a leap. Somehow in the process of getting everyone breakfast, I missed the actual first flight of the big baby, and by the time I came back to the window to watch, there were two babies left in the nest, and the one that had left was nowhere to be seen. The second biggest baby was then showing his bravery, flapping his wings and going to where his brother/sister first must have flown from. Liam was insistent on eating his breakfast at our nook where he could watch the nest, while Jonah was set up at the table in the front room. After finishing our cereal, the second baby had not yet taken the leap but made several ventures out to the edge of the nesting box. We all gathered in the kitchen to watch, and we all cheered the baby on. You'd have thought it was a major sporting event, and we were cheering for our favorite athlete. Finally, with us all as his witness and celebrating, middle baby took a wonky flutter from the nesting box toward the back of the yard. He/she flapped to the garden and then off to the back fence, awkward as could be, but with one of the parents watching closely. We watched the little thing fly to the fence, skitter over the neighbors shed, and then flutter off into another neighbor's yard.

We were all so excited. We went out and checked on the nest. One baby left. The last baby was the smallest (the one with his/her eyes closed in yesterday's picture), and I didn't think that it would be ready for flying today. I was a little concerned that with the two bigger babies gone from the nest that the parent birds might neglect the runt (as I know some animals do), but for the remainder of the afternoon while we were out, one of the parents would come back periodically with a snack for the baby.

After we napped in the afternoon, I saw the baby still in the nest, and assumed there would be no grand flight for him/her today. Hubby and I are taking dance lessons with the neighbors, so I had to get ready for those. The boys played in the house while I got ready, and not long before we were ready to head next door, the dog began carrying on in the back yard.

Normally, I would assume that he had a squirrel treed, as he insists on chasing them through the back yard, crazy dog under the powerlines with the squirrel dancing across the black tightrope, likely giving him the middle finger or at least sticking out a tongue once across. Bailey always wants to make his presence known to the squirrels. He actually once caught and mangled one, and in my guilt of owning a squirrel mangler, I put on thick leather gloves, rescued the injured guy (not before getting bit on the knuckle, however) and dragged him in a box to a local vet to see if he had a chance of surviving. I figured if he was vivacious enough to bite me, surely he had a chance. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be so. But I digress....

So, as I put my earrings in, I sent Liam out to the back yard to see what all the yapping was about. Liam quickly came flying back in the house. The dog had gotten one of the robins. Liam assumed it was the mommy or daddy, but when I saw the mottled feathers, I knew it was the last baby. Sure enough, empty nest.

The little guy had decided to take a chance at flying after all, but with the dog out in the yard and unsure wings, he didn't have a chance. Bailey had really done a number on the little guy, and by the time we got to him, he was pretty much dead.

Liam was mortified (as was I). I had to explain that the poor baby bird was going to die, that there wasn't a Band-Aid in the world big enough to fix him. At that point, I was pretty much at a loss and having a hard time containing my own tears. Shift into mommy mode. I instructed the boys to guard the crime scene and got my gardening gloves. I picked the mangled baby up and told him/her how very sorry we were that he/she didn't get a chance to grow up to be a big robin. I may have called the dog a brute and banished him to the house until we were to leave.

We decided that our baby bird needed a good impromptu funeral, but finding a good location was a little tricky, as we didn't want the dog coming back out and digging up the spot. So Liam helped me pick a spot in the back corner of the yard near our compost heap, and I dug a hole.
I placed the bird in the hole, said a few words about him/her going back to the earth and nourishing Mother Nature's other creatures and that Bailey was sorry. I covered him over and put a brick on the spot to keep the dog from digging him back up. Poor Liam was beside himself. I told him it was okay to cry, that death is often a sad thing, but that it's also a part of Mother Nature's circle of life. Bailey is a retriever, and it's his part of his instincts to chase and hunt animals. He can't help it. Liam was insistent that the mommy and daddy bird would need to come lay another egg to replace the lost baby. I told him that maybe some time they would, but right now they had two other birds that needed to be raised before any other babies could come along, and that another baby doesn't always make the hurt get better, that it takes time.

As it turns out, the neighbor's dog also got a hold of a baby robin this morning. I'm hoping that it's not one of our babies, but it may be. I wasn't expecting how emotionally invested the kids (and I for that matter) would get in the babies, and I wasn't expecting to have to have another deep conversation with Liam about the nature of death (we had quite the intense discussion of it the other day, but I'm not mentally equipped to discuss it at the moment).

I wasn't sure if the birds come back to the nest at night once they've left, so I checked the nest tonight after we got home from our lesson. Still empty. So we will watch for our robins tomorrow, and if they haven't returned, we'll clean the nesting box out and let another family of birds give it a try. A house sparrow tried to land in the box today, and the babies chased him off, so we'll see who makes it home next.


Andi said...

Awh thats so sad...

Karla said...

Aw, I was almost in tears myself! (I was crying on the inside.) How so very exciting to hear how the birds took flight. It made the tragedy of the final bird's death that much more tragic. How awful for that sweet spirit in your son to have to see the ugliness of death. I think you handled the entire situation really well and you tell a good story. I enjoyed reading about it, even if it didn't have the happiest of endings. Here's praying your son finds comfort from the ugly side of life. One day it won't be this way anymore... I, for one, am looking and longing for that hope-filled day!!