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The Nest

"Mommy, there's a baby bird on the ground!" Mallory called.

I sighed. This wasn't going to end well, I was afraid. I remembered the baby birds I came across as a child, that I would gaze at with a mixture of revulsion and sorrow -- featherless, purply, clearly dead. I went over to where Mallory was and saw a little lump, reddish instead of purple, with the downy beginnigs of feathers and a bright yellow beak, lying in an awkward heap under the pear tree. And breathing. "What do we do?" Mallory asked. I was about to answer and then I saw another one. And another. And another. I took a step back and surveyed the area -- four little lumps of birds, all still alive, all raising their beaks to the air. Their nest was over to the side, blown out of the tree by the heavy winds that had gusted that morning. Clearly we had to do something to save them, but what?

"I'm calling Mimi," Mallory declared, running to the house. An excellent idea -- my sister-in-law being our resident expert for anything concerning wildlife. Mallory brought me the phone and I asked Amy to come over. While waiting for her, I googled "found baby bird" and discovered a helpful website with details on how to handle such an emergency. The thing to do, if you're ever in this situation, is not to put the babies in a shoe box lined with cotton and feed them gruel. No, the best thing to do is to try to return them to their parents, who are, of course, much better suited to raising baby birds than your average suburban household. (Did you know a baby bird needs to eat every 10 minutes, round the clock? And I thought having a newborn human was rough!)

Amy arrived; we placed the remnants of the nest into a small wicker basket. Amy carefully scooped up each little bird and placed them back in the nest. The babies struggled to arrange themselves in a cozy little heap, snuggled against one another. We got a ladder and some fishing line and Amy climbed up and secured the basket to a branch. "What happens now?" Mallory asked. "Now we wait and see if the mommy can find them," Amy replied.

We sat on the porch and watched. Within five minutes, we saw a mama robin land on a branch a few feet above the basket. She looked around. We held our breath. She hopped down to a lower branch, still looking. "Go! Go!" Mallory chanted softly. The robin hesitated, looked again -- and then fluttered down into the basket. We could see the baby birds raise their beaks and she lowered hers to feed them.

As Amy put it, we all got a bit misty.

I checked on the babies a few times today. I've seen the mama fly back and forth to the basket and I've seen the beaks of the babies raise above the rim of the nest, so I think they're fine. I wonder what the robin parents were thinking yesterday. Were they ever aware that their babies had fallen out of the tree? Had they started mourning their loss, or did we return them to the tree before they realized what had happened? What did the mama think, to find her babies a few feet away from where she had left them, now in a wicker basket lined with paper towels? Do mama birds feel sad, worried, mournful, grateful? Do animals whose offspring have only a 15-20% chance of surviving to adulthood have the luxury of these emotions?

I like to think the mama was watching us the whole time, cheering in her little heart when she saw us trying to help, filled with gratitude when we put her babies up back up in the tree. I like to think that she cherishes those four little ones more than ever, brings them only the juiciest of worms, will be extra gentle when she nudges them out to try their wings.

And I hope that next spring, she'll build a better nest.


J&H Noble said…
I'm glad it worked out as it did- I too remember the hopeless tiny birds I found as a child.
What a wonderful experience for your girls!
J&H Noble said…
I'm glad it worked out as it did- I too remember the hopeless tiny birds I found as a child.
What a wonderful experience for your girls!
aimee said…
Aww, I am a little misty too. That is a beautiful story. I am so glad they were alive and the mama found them.
Anonymous said…
Clearly baby robins are much hardier than the poor sparrows that slways blew out of our trees. I don't think we ever saw any babies still breathing. And what would we have done if we had? We had no google, no Amy!


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