I notice something sitting stationary in the middle of the entry to the bluebird house and grab binoculars. As I focus in on the baby bluebird peering out, I realize this is an auspicious occasion, the day when little ones leave the nest to venture into a huge world of gigantic trees, large fields of green grass and miles and miles of flight space containing evil predators waiting to scoop them up. Settling on my back deck, I silently sit and study.
Papa bird, donned in brilliant blue coat, perches nearby along with mama bird in her drab blue. Does it bother anyone else that males get to wear the bold colors, or is it just me? The birds chatter constantly as I envision daddy chirping, “You can do it, child. Don’t be afraid. Just push off and start flapping your wings. Mom and I are right here, and we’ll keep you safe. Nothing’s going to happen. We’re keeping laser sharp eyes on all the surroundings.”
Time clicks on, and baby appears to summon courage then slips back inside the safe confines of the tiny house. Fear of the unknown pulls it back from the door to new adventures. Rousing its confidence, the bird fluffs its wings, placing tiny feet on the outside of the small hole. Then, it disappears from view again. To fly or not to fly, that is the question. Maybe this little one argues back to dad like Moses did with God, “I can’t do it. Maybe I can just stay here and you can keep bringing me worms and bugs. It’s kind of scary and really, really big out there. I’m little and I might fall.”
Fifteen minutes, and I’m still stuck to my chair. I can’t miss this, since my own firstborn is finding his wings right now—getting married in a few weeks and soon to be out of my nest. I’m here to learn how birds do this empty nest thing. I observe the baby edging out again. Looking right and left, peering way out to see the male, it pushes out and away, flapping furiously until it precariously lands on top of the swing set. Shew! First flight not pretty, but successful. The baby is absolutely still, yet I’m certain its heart is pumping a million beats a minute.
I swing the binoculars back to the nest where a second baby is peeking out. I wonder how many comprise this family and how long it will take for each of them to gain the courage to flap into the world. I wait. And wait. This baby looks about ready to take off, then chaos ensues. Birds squawk and swoop. Mama and Papa bird sense danger and chase off crows and others who threaten the successful flight of their baby. The parents depart and return about a hundred times while the baby looks like a statue in the middle of the hole. It does not move a feather.
At least 30 minutes pass before the baby moves. I can only surmise that he’s been given the all clear signal. Examining the surroundings, head straining far out of the nest, this next bird begins flapping towards his mom and dad and safely lands. Papa flies to the seed feeder a few feet from me, pecks a bit, zips back to the newly flown bird and plops food into the open mouth. Did this dad just bribe his son to fly with food? I wonder. Didn’t I just do that last week urging bites of broccoli with the enticement of ice cream?
I look once again to the nest and wait for another head to pop through. The hole remains empty. No more birds. I guess they really are empty nesters now. Sigh. I ponder how they feel, if they are sad when they look at their cozy home with no babies left. Siting the family of four alighting on top of the trampoline I watch as the parents pause for their babies. They don’t fly off as soon as the babes are out of the nest but stick around for support and encouragement. They wait for the babies to practice using their wings more, and yet the tiny feet seem stuck like glue. Wings flap but feet fix tightly to the trampoline. It’s hard to fly that way, feathers fluttering but feet not letting go. Yet, the only way for these birds to find their wings is to let go of their comfort zone.
My firstborn is also finding his wings. A two and a half hour trip north to college began his journey four years ago. Split between home and dorm during holidays and summers, his wings fluttered the distance between both. But, he always came home. This summer—in three short weeks—he flies away, not returning to the nest. Just as the baby bluebirds will eventually, he is creating his own place with his bride. This journey to his new life outside familiarity began gradually years before and culminates with wings fully spread soaring smoothly to bright skies. He’s excited and ready to go.
Unfortunately, a son finding wings causes a mom to find a few boxes of Kleenex!