Baby Birds

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There’s a robin’s nest perched under the eaves of our garage, sheltered by an unruly rose bush. Every spring, I wait for the mama robin to arrive. She built her nest the first spring we moved into our house. I watched her fly awkwardly with long pieces of dried grass and twigs, somehow forcing them into nest-shaped submission in order to make a home for her future babies. I was pregnant at the time; my nesting instinct was significantly less impressive. Now she comes back every year. I wonder if it’s the same robin or if nests change hands on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Last week, when Mama Robin was out looking for worms, I stood up on a chair and held a hand mirror above the nest to take a peek. There were three brilliant blue eggs inside. Three-year-old A. was watching from the ground: “Are they going to hatch soon?” he shrieked with excitement. After extricating myself from the evil rose bush, which had caught my clothes in a number of awkward places, I watched Mama Robin fly back with an angry chirp. I don’t think she was impressed by my invasion of her privacy.

The babies hatched a few days ago. At first I couldn’t tell because they were so small that their beaks didn’t reach the top of the nest, but Mama stood on the edge of the nest and leaned over with worms. Now the chicks can be seen from our front door, beaks open wide and gulping air, eyes still closed with pure newness, wispy tufts of hair sprouting from their heads. They are hideously ugly and heart-meltingly adorable at the same time.

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Imagine how snug and cozy they feel in their tiny little nest — still oblivious to the outside world.

I love seeing how the things we talk about and see at home get incorporated into my kids’ play. A couple days ago, A. and his friend played “birds in a nest” for at least an hour. They found a giant pile of decaying leaves in a corner beneath the cedar hedge and I heard A. announce, “OK, I’m the mommy bird and you’re the daddy bird. Let’s go sit on our eggs.” They flopped onto the dirty pile of leaves and I had to fight the urge to tell them to stay away because kids do need to get grubby in the dirt. When baby L. saw what the big boys were doing, he followed them onto the pile. “Now we have a chick!” they yelled with glee. “And he’s hatched!”

I’ll be keeping my eye on the baby robins over the next few days. Soon they’ll be learning to fly and falling all over the patio. I always feel a little bit of empty-nest syndrome when the last baby leaves, but at least I know Mama Robin will be back again next April.

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