Monday, August 16, 2010

Fly Away

Earlier this spring, a house wren with it's long pointy bill and up-cocked tail made a nest outside of my kitchen window in a hanging basket. Not so good for the pretty pink petunia that used to live in the dangling flower bed, but great for me to observe the little brown bird and it's fuzzy little offspring. It's hard to imagine how after all her effort with making the nest, laying the eggs, incubating them with her own body heat til at last they finally hatched and then feeding and caring for them, she is able to just boot those little fellas out of the nest. As they plummet to the earth, I wonder if she is fully confident in their ability to go out and fend for themselves in this great big world. I wonder too, how could she have taught so much to so many so quickly.

The lady wren toils making an intricate nest, with help from the poppa bird. As the daddy bird starts making a "dummy nest", the momma goes out to find a suitable neighborhood for the real nest. Once momma has selected a site, she starts construction sometimes using sticks from the "dummy nest" made by poppa. She finishes the nest quickly usually taking between 3-14 days. Small dry sticks are placed together to form a tall base 4-6" deep. Then mom makes the nest cup which is lined with grass, inner bark, hair, and finally feathers. Comfy, cozy and safe from predators, mom is ready to move on.

So the male wren takes the female wren out for a crazy night of woo-ing...good food, great company, maybe some music and a nice bottle of wine, and a little ...oh wait. (Sorry, that was me). Actually, they sing, their wings quiver when excited, and while woo-ing his gal with his special song, his tail is tilted upward. After this whirlwind courtship this momma wren is ready to set her alarm and wake very early in the morning to pass 1 egg per day up to 8 days. Now, this momma is a small bird and I can't imagine that passing eggs the size of a dime could be comfortable so it makes me wonder if any of the numerous songs she sings is actually a cry out in pain, a "Get this thing out of me!" tune.

With this fine home made, and the eggs laid, it is time for mom to settle in and sit. And sit. And sit in this tiny, albeit very well made nest, with no cable, no phone, no magazines. Oh sure, maybe she did have friends drop by but I never saw a visitor bearing a Bundt cake.

What is she thinking, I wonder? Is she planning their names? Do wrens even name their offspring and if they do, are they names like Nick and Mary or just chirps and sounds? Anyway, there she is consisting on a diet of spiders, beetles, caterpillars and other critters, until the day comes when these little eggs start to wriggle beneath her. A beak followed by 2 over-sized closed eyeballs on a tiny little body that is naked and pink and vulnerable. It's wings being hardly recognizable as something that will eventually make flight possible for this little fellow. Surely only a face a mother could love. The eggs tend to hatch one at a time, versus all at once, making it a "first come, first serve" situation as far as eating is concerned. I wonder how she keeps track since they all look the same to me. Sorry momma.

Both parents take turns feeding these little buggers. It takes about 18 days until their wing feathers are developed enough for flight (also known as fledging) and another 12 days or so to to be fully independent. Off they go, out into the great big world.

When, in this short span of time did she divulge the secrets of life? How did she get them to sit still and stop chirping long enough to listen to flight instructions? What about the ones who complained about the food, "I don't like my worms chewed so much" "Can't we have something other than spiders"? Did she put the naughty ones in the corner? Do nests even have corners?

In any event, ready or not, here they come. A new batch of bright-eyed house wrens flitting about, with little hops in between. The songs start up and the process starts again. At this point, mom may re-nest for another brood or 2. WHAT? Maybe she feels that since she hasn't gotten her figure back she might as well. Who knows? I feel exhausted just thinking about the "I'm not touching you"s she must have heard from all those little semi bald winged creatures she brought forth to this planet.

It is amazing to me that I don't walk around and see tiny little fuzzy wren carcasses strewn about, evidence of their not listening when mom was lecturing. I wonder if she and I were to talk what she would be able to share with me of her mothering skills. How to give life and then let it go off seemingly so easy? Do wrens love? Does it break her heart to see the little ones grow up? I bet it does but I think that she is a "tough love" kind of mom, knowing it's important to let her birdies fly. Even if it were to upset her at the thought of her young ones leaving, she'd never show it. Somehow, in a very short amount of time, nothing like the 18 years I've been given with each of my little birds, she has been able to instill in them what she thinks they need to know. She has given the tools for her babies to use out in the world. And then gently, she nudges each one of them up to the edge of the nest, tells them she loves them (I choose to believe they do love), to go off and have great adventures and then someday, come back and share them with her. Off they go, one by one until she is alone. She looks around at her empty nest and decides what to do next.

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