The Birds

Several weeks ago, my homebound son, Peter noticed that a bird nest had been constructed in the middle of the Christmas Cactus out on the front porch. In it, were six perfect blue robin’s eggs on top of which sat a puffed up robin day after day. We knew not to touch and so reverent were we, that we never even got close enough to take photos. Once before, the twins had touched a nest to which the mama never returned. Those babies hatched and we tried to syringe feed them to keep them alive, but their imminent death was trauma for us, so we were not going down that path again!

It has been the most perfect Spring event to observe and track. Each day the mama bird sat, patient and proud and waited. She never went to childbirth classes, no trips to Babies R Us were required, nor did she register for any baby gifts in preparation for the births. She would fly away for periods of time and curiously the dad would perch nearby and squawk for her to return to her full time job. It seemed she just needed to spread her wings a bit and have a break from the nesting. She had made a most beautiful and perfect home, but even from the best of abodes, we all need a break sometimes.

Days passed and each morning we checked the progress until finally lo’ and behold when we weren’t looking, six skinny, hairless chicks had emerged. We had missed the drama of the shells cracking and all, but nonetheless, we were thrilled to see this next phase. Now, began the hectic work of keeping these babies fed. Oh my! This mama flew back and forth all day long, retrieving worms, chewing them up, spitting them into continuously opened mouths. There seemed to never be any satiety in these chicks who wanted more, more, more. Isn’t this the case with human babies too? As a lactation consultant, I find this to be the single most difficult concept to deliver to new moms — “Babies are hungry, most of the time and feed continously.”

We wished we had done some filming with some time lapsed recording, because each day was something new. One day the babies eyes opened, one day they grew feathers, one day they got more crowded in the nest. But, always, when mom when to get some food, dad flew nearby and yelled for her during her absence. Poor thing was always on the mission of getting those babies fed. I wondered why these birds were not designed as mammals where mom has all she needs to feed the babies. This seemed so much harder.

Ironically, the Christmas cactus, that housed the full house nest, began to bloom, totally out of season. First one, then several beautiful pink flowers burst open. It was as if to celebrate the coming of life, the yin and the yang, the loveliness of it all, heralded with pink blossoms in May that typically only bloom in December!

Six perfect baby birds snuggled together with mouths almost always open begging for food and when they weren’t, they slept in a heap, kept warm by each other and by their very capable and proud mama. I think the most amazing part to me was the complete lack of intervention. No one rushed anything. Not the birth, not the infancy. There was no induction because she was overdue or supplementation because there wasn’t enough milk. No one pressured the mama (maybe the dad a little!), no one said these babes “just weren’t getting enough” or “gaining weight fast enough” or “growing enough feathers.” No, on the contrary, all was well, just the way it was. It was such a delight for my chronically ill son to observe each day as he thrilled to the process and progress through the front window.

And then, oddly one day all but two birds were gone! One cute little round robin, perched on the top step, trying to spread his wings, falling over, trying again, falling again, over and over until poof — he was gone. But, ah, those last two — they stayed and stayed. In fact, they stayed a whole other day, waiting for mom to bring food, and cuddling up with each other still to snooze. What is it that makes some of us slower to fly than others? What is it that gives some more bravado, more faith in it all working out, than the rest of us? I always wonder this and now bore witness to that very phenomenon. But then, we looked away and those last two as well, had flown the coop. Left behind was a whole lot of bird poop, some shedded feathers, and one absolutely perfect bird’s nest. Indeed the saying runs true, “We give our children two things, roots and wings.”