The Empty Nest

There’s a bird’s nest inside this birdhouse outside my window.

Today I sit and watch as two little wrens go in and out. They fly away, return, then leave again. There are chicks in that nest, I think.

I marvel at the energy and devotion of the two parents, for both of them are involved in the feeding of these babies. Their search for food on endless flights seems to occupy every single moment of the day. Hard workers, are these little birds. And demanding are the babies.

One day, and I likely won’t see it happen, the babies will leave the nest to fly away, as will the parents. The nest will sit empty inside the birdhouse for weeks, months, nearly a year I suppose, until the next breeding season.

What will those hard-working parents do? How will they spend their time now? Do they realize it is but a reprieve until next season, next year, when they will be back at this hard work again? Or perhaps, with a limited view of time cycles and the future, do they fly away with a song, set free at last?

In either case, I suspect they rest, and play, if birds can play. Maybe they soak in the sun on their backs, ruffle their feathers in a soft breeze, and drink in the fresh and cool summer rains.

Our children have left this nest, but we have not. We are still here. But the nest feels empty now with the cessation of incessant needs, and the purpose that energized our flights back and forth dissipated.

How will we spend our our time now?

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While we WERE watching

Although I feel fortunate, as I wrote in my last post, “to witness some of the wildlife here that shares this woods and this planet with us,” sometimes I see things I wish I hadn’t.

I regret to tell you my hummingbird story does not have a happy ending.

After watching the little hummingbird work nonstop building her nest over Memorial Day weekend, on Tuesday when I had breakfast, she was sitting on the nest.

Hummingbird on nest
7:37 a.m.

And like the article I read at rubythroat.org, she sat on the nest most of the day, leaving it occasionally for short trips. She did fuss with the nest from time to time, but I felt certain she had laid her eggs.

As I came to find out, her job of bringing hummingbird chicks into the world was more challenging than just incubating the eggs. One occasion when she had left the nest, I spied a blue jay on the branch just below her nest. Then he hoped up on the adjacent branch. I feared he was going to take the eggs, so I banged on the window, then opened it and yelled, and then went outside adding arm motions to my voice. That scared the blue-jay away, this time, but I knew I was not going to be able to guard those eggs all day long. And without a bb-gun or a slingshot, I wasn’t well-positioned to protect the nest. I knew the hummingbird was on her own.

By the end of the day, the mother was sitting on the nest, doing her thing. She had made it through day-one. Only 13 to 15 more days to go.

On Wednesday she was doing a good job of guarding her eggs. At one point in the day, I saw her come back to the nest and she was flying like a crazy bird up and down, back and forth, near the nest. When I looked closer, I saw another bird very near the nest. With that long beak, hummingbirds can be pretty intimidating, I imagine. She successfully chased the intruder off and went back to the work at hand.

Thursday morning at breakfast, I heard Mark say, “Oh no! He got the egg.” He rushed towards the door. I looked out the window and saw a big blue-jay dip its beak into the nest and come out with what looked like a little white pea or pebble. He got both eggs.

I wondered what the little hummer would do when she returned. At first she just sat on the nest. I don’t think she realized the eggs were gone initially. She couldn’t settle into the nest, but kept shifting and moving around.

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7:54 a.m.

 

Then she got up and started looking into the nest.

She sat back on the nest at one point.

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7:54 a.m.

Then she looked in the nest some more. It looked like she cleaned something out of it at one point, maybe a piece of eggshell.

She flew away briefly and came back. I read that hummingbirds have two broods and sometimes use the same nest. I wondered if she was cleaning things up to come back and try again.

By 8:03, just a few minutes after the theft of her eggs, the little hummer left the nest. We haven’t seen her since.

 

While we’re not watching

The backyard drops away from where our house sits on the hill. Because of that, our view from our windows is at, if not treetop level, certainly a tree-house level. From the bay windows around our kitchen table, I can watch birds while I eat. Since I spend a fair amount of time doing that on a daily basis, I witness things in the woods I might miss were I not watching.

Like this little hummingbird, for example.

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The little humming bird is perched on the sycamore tree in the center of this photo.

“That little bird really likes to land at that spot,” I said to Mark. “I’ve seen it in that same exact spot several times in the past couple of days.”

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I wanted to get it’s picture so I zoomed in with my camera, but the little lady wasn’t there.

 

I didn’t realize it immediately, but you may have guessed. She was making a nest.

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It looks more like a nest when she is sitting on it.

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She doesn’t rest there long.

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Hummingbird with cottonwood seed fluff.

She’s busy scavenging building materials like cottonwood seeds,

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Hummingbird with spider web

or spider webs, that you can just barely see if you look below her beak.

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Hummingbird building nest

Then she has to tuck everything into the nest she’s building.

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By the end of the day, she had made the nest cozy and comfortable with the soft white cottonseeds.

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I don’t know if she spent the night there or not.

According to rubythroat.org, after the hummingbirds mate, the male and female have little or nothing to do with each other. She will be a single parent. A day or two after her nest is complete, she will lay two pea-sized eggs. Occasionally there may be only one, but she knows better than to try to manage feeding three on on her own—so usually only two.

Incubation lasts about two weeks. I should be able to tell because during this time period she will be on the nest 50 to 55 minutes every hour.

When the chicks hatch they are about 2 cm in length and not able to keep their bodies warm. The mother still stays with them, but leaves the nest for quick trips to find food which may be nectar, pollen, and tiny insects.

The chicks will stay in the nest about three weeks.

I’m really hoping to shoot a photo of the mother feeding the babies.

After dinner, Mark and I sat on our screened in porch, also at tree-house level. We saw a young doe, and then later a young buck, wander along the creek just inside the woods at the bottom of our yard. We listened to bird calls, occasionally hearing one we didn’t recognize. And watched an occasional flash of red in the trees as a cardinal found its perch for the night.

I feel fortunate to witness some of the wildlife here that shares this woods and this planet with us, and I wonder at all that I miss while I’m not watching.

 

 

 

Magical, winged, woodland creatures

In preparation for hand-feeding the hummingbirds, the ranger at Lake Hope, Ohio said, “Bees will be attracted to the sugar water. Let them be. They don’t want to sting you, they want to drink the sugar water. If you flap your arms and carry on, you will never get a hummingbird to come.”

Hummingbird feeding

This woman was the picture of patience, and it paid off. I wish I could have reached her before she left. I would have sent her the photo.

Hummingbird

Whoah. Incoming. She sure kept her cool. I’m not sure I could have.

Hummingbird

When the first hummingbird I ever saw, years ago, as it was zipping through my garden, buzzed by me, I ducked, thinking it was a very large insect.

Hummingbird

What do you think? Insect or bird? Maybe insect.

Hummingbid

No, definitely bird.

Hummingbird

Or maybe magical, winged, woodland creature dancing with the fairies.

Hummingbirds, photoshopI suspect she thinks so. I thought she deserved a hummingbird or two or three, even if she wasn’t patient enough to ever get one without a little help from Adobe Elements.

Spring is coming — just ask the birds

It’s been a long, cold winter here. But the month of March always gives me hope for spring. And this year is no different. Even though white patches of snow still dot the ground, I know winter’s days are numbered.

Yesterday I saw squirrels running through the woods hopping from limb to limb in a kind of feverish ecstasy that enters all of our souls to one degree or another with the coming of spring.

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Our first robin is back. (A quick google search will tell you that some of the robins never leave. We, however, have not seen one solitary robin at our feeders the entire winter until the past few days. You can judge for yourself.)

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And a red-winged blackbird has been visiting our feeders. (Websites like the Cornell lab of Ornithology will tell you that these birds are here year-round. It also states, “In the North, their early arrival and tumbling song are happy indications of the return of spring.” Again, you can judge for yourself.)

Spring is coming. I can see it in the birds, and feel it in the air.

Soon.

An owl in daytime

I spotted an owl in a tree in the woods above the creek yesterday afternoon.

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I watched this owl as it slowly rotated his head around from front to back. Owls can truly look behind them and can turn their heads nearly 360 degrees according to National Geographic. This is necessary because the owls’ eyes are in fixed sockets and can’t move around like ours do.

I’m pretty sure the owl I saw is one of the Great Horned Owls that we often hear at night or in the early morning hours.

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Two Great Horned Owls viewed at 9:00 a.m. on December 23, 2013.

 I’ve seen one or two perched above the creek before. It must be good hunting ground.

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Great Horned Owl viewed at 9:00 a.m. on January 9, 2014.

Many people believe that if you see an owl in the daytime it is a bad sign. From early times, across many civilizations, owls have been viewed as harbringers of bad luck, ill health, or death and destruction. But sometimes owls are seen as divine messengers of the gods. (Radha on Yahoo answers – 2008)

For many people the owl is a symbol for wisdom.

At Symbolic Meanings by Avia she explains that although owls are associated with death in certain cultures, it is “revered (honored) as being the guardian of the after-life.”

Furthermore, Avia explains, as a creature of the night, the owl is symbolic of inner-knowing, psychic ability, and intuition. “If an owl has visited you,” she says, ” an incredible gift has been bestowed.”

Is the owl a harbringer of death or wisdom?

Unlike known and provable facts like the earth is round, beliefs can be chosen.

On this first anniversary of my father’s death, I don’t have to tell you which belief I’m going with.

Thank you universe for the gift.