You’ve heard those words, uttered with calm confidence while travel to a strange, new world never seen, and from which there may be no return, looms dead ahead.
This past week was nerve-wracking awaiting chickadee baby fledging day. Ricky and Lucy’s activity increased as they prepared their little ones for their first flight into the bright light of day and a new world beyond the nest. At times it seemed they could not fly fast enough to feed their nestlings and keep the nest clean.
Ricky selected the most plump safflower seeds from the hopper feeder, broke them open, and flew back to the nest box carrying the precious seed morsel to feed his growing family. He came back to the suet feeder, took a big mouthful of suet, perched on top of the feeder station with it, licked the suet off of a small peanut piece and transported it back to the babies. Meanwhile, Lucy selected choice nubbins from the hawthorn tree and Cotoneaster bushes for her children. Later she did pirouettes in the air among the graceful branches of the weeping birch gathering nutritious insects to help them gain their strength.
The parent birds no longer had to enter the nest box and drop down inside to feed the babies. They landed at the entry hole and simply leaned in. I could imagine the hungry mouths easily reaching up inside to fight for the treats being delivered. Movement inside the nest box was obvious with the binoculars trained on the entry hole — flapping wings and an occasional peek-a-boo tiny face jumping into sight.
The mowing crew showed up for their weekly grounds maintenance. Loud riding-mower motors! Shreds of grass flying on the breeze! Weed whackers buzzing! It didn’t seem to concern the chickadees much. They’ve been subjected to this racket before. But could today be fledge day? Would the commotion interfere? What’s that I spy on the front of the nest box? Why, it looks like baby bird fledgling propellant! (Hint — sometimes fledglings leave little “droppings” on the front of their nest box when they take flight as if they have the droppings scared out of them, you know.) Did I miss something? I didn’t see a bird fledge. But then I could not watch all day. I could have missed it. One or more could have fledged while others will wait for another day. Ricky and Lucy continue to feed and clean into evening. It is clear that all or some nestlings are still in the box.
I leave the house this morning knowing Ricky and Lucy are already busy with feeding runs to and from the nest box. This has to be the final day. I am unable to stay and watch. I must go out and earn enough for more wild bird seed. Returning home at day’s end, I find the yard and nest box quiet. No activity. It seems strange and sad. I know they can’t be far away. I long to see them. They are nowhere.
The birds could fledge pre-maturely (before they know how to fly) if disturbed too late during the nestling stage. I have not opened the nest box for over a week to make sure they do not suffer this fate. I did a good job since they stayed beyond the average number of days in the nest box since they hatched.
Now, I feel compelled to look into the box. Gently, I peer in with a small flashlight and mechanic’s mirror and with the box top open just a crack…just in case…nothing. I fully open the box lid and find a well-tamped-down nest.
All of a sudden! Fee-bee-bee! Bee-bee-bee! Fee-bee-bee! Bee-bee-bee! Fee-bee-bee! Fee-bee-bee! Fee-bee-bee! Bee-bee-bee! Fee-bee-bee! Bee-bee-bee!
Ricky! Lucy! What are you doing here? What’s wrong? Where are your babies?
The parent pair was all around me in their pine tree. They scolded and scolded and scolded more. I backed away. Lucy hovered in front of the entry hole and looked in but did not enter. I slowly made my way back to the house. Ricky and Lucy finally flew off. It’s as if they bonded to the box and are not yet reconciled to having to leave their cozy little love nest where they taught their young to fly.
I know they will stay near and take care of their fledglings for about a month before the family disburses. I know I will see and recognize them at the feeder station and at the bird bath for a little while.
As a friend once said to me when the bluebirds on my route had fledged …
“You saw them through.”