When the Bluebirds Fledged

Birds make great sky-circles
of their freedom.
How do they learn it?
They fall, and falling,
they’re given wings. ―Rumi.

In April, the female claimed the nesting box closest to my house, just down the driveway where it turns toward the barn. Her brilliant blue partner had guarded two boxes for a month, chasing tree swallows and other intruders. After making a choice, she began building.

Every morning I opened my bedroom shades to check on them. First thing. I was thrilled when I saw the male or female on the perch or the barn roof and concerned when I didn’t.

It’s a scary world out there with snakes and red-tailed hawks. I’ve witnessed bluebird tragedies—nests invaded by ants, starlings terrorizing the neighborhood like inner city gangs, and an empty nest inside a box with feathers stuck to the walls and shattered blue shells. The scene of a crime I couldn’t explain.

After the female settled in, I peeked inside the nesting boxes even though Mama and Papa Blue didn’t like it. I didn’t look often and waited until they were out searching for worms and bugs. Mid May, I saw 5 blue eggs. In early June, five fluffy balls with mouths. A few days later, five little beaks open wide, but the parents caught me and protested. I left without a photo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Saturday, I saw five blue-feathered bodies piled on top of each other, cowering from the blast of light. I snapped a photo, gently tucked tail feathers and wings in place, and closed the door.

Inside my house, I set up an observation site with a telescope focused on the nesting box door and binoculars nearby for scanning the wider view. I watched. For hours. Surely they would fledge any minute. Waiting became a meditation.

There was no more room in that box. It couldn’t take long. The parents had ignored the kids since morning. Little open mouths appeared in my telescope frame poking out the nesting box door. By evening, the parents gave in to their pleas and fed them again.

On Sunday, when I opened my shades, papa was on his perch and mama was tidying the nursery by removing white fecal sacs. The kids were still at home. I watched much of the day, meditating on bluebirds, cheering for life, urging them to fledge.

I waited the way I wait for a glimpse of silence when I sit on my meditation cushion. Breathing. Watching. Expecting nothing. These are skills I’ve practiced for many years, but they still don’t come easy.

my observation post with telescope and binoculars

Isn’t there something better to do than sit with a straight back and watch the bluebird house? I asked myself. I didn’t stop. Instead, I settled in for a Summer Solstice Retreat.

By afternoon, a storm blew through. Out a window blurred by raindrops, I watched a tiny one jump. Just one. No soaring flight. Just a courageous drop into tall grass, a dangerous unknown world.

On Monday morning, I was sure they’d all be gone, but the parents were at work again. I read that it can take days for all the babes to leave home, something any parent knows

Near noon, I watched the last one fledge. A beak crowned through the round nesting box door. Then back in it went. Then the head. Then the neck. No, not yet. Then little feet resting on the doorway before another retreat. Back and forth, in and out, as the parents careened around the box. Finally, the young bird took a leap and flew.

The parents rejoiced in “great sky circles.” Soon the whole family joined in. The kids had their freedom. They had their wings. All seven met in a maple tree, hopping and circling, hiding in the leaves. By evening they moved to the woods where the babes will learn to feed themselves.

Tuesday morning, I spied Papa Blue guarding the box further from my house, the one the female hadn’t chosen the last time. He wasn’t there for long. He had child-rearing duties.

Maybe I’ll have a second summer meditation retreat with more baby Blues leaping toward life.

***

Female incubating eggs

I struggle with vertigo with the wildly changing weather, so bluebird meditation is good medicine. I sit still. I watch. I wait and breathe. In March, after bluebirds had nested for three straight years, my friend and helper Matt Hoff and I figured out how to improve the habitat. Matt cleared nasty brush (thank you, Matt!) near the nesting sites. I bought new Audubon boxes with easy entrance latches. Matt made wire covers over places where starlings had pushed their way into the barn to nest. When starlings perched on the barn roof, they scared the song birds away. Then we waited, knowing the bluebirds would decide if they liked our remodeling. They came.

What do you learn from watching Nature? What rewards do the song birds bring? For other articles about the teachings of Nature, see The Problem with Preferences and Gardening Is a Spiritual Practice.

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28 Comments
  1. Your blogs are always a special treat for me to read. I love your blue bird stories, augmented with the photos

    • Thank you, Ellen. It’s an honor and a pleasure to write many stories and first drafts in your Writing Room Workshops. Sometimes in writing that first draft, the story keeps unfolding as this one did.

  2. Just beautiful for the eyes and the soul

    • Thank you, Patt. The Bluebird male is guarding a box down the fence, one of the boxes I cleaned out after the baby bluebirds fledged. This morning the mama is building a new nest. They still have five babes to teach the ways of the world, but nature doesn’t wait. They’re preparing for the next brood. I’m watching, witnessing, hoping for their success.

      • They are shoo fun to watch. After the second brood they all left and haven’t comer back. I put food out, stress untouched. Miss watching them Deb

        • They usually leave, but clean out the nesting boxes and they’ll return next year. I had one family that nested twice in the same box in 2018. I saw the last baby fledge and immediately cleaned out the nesting box and the female began building that day, even as she and her mate flew around the yard with the juveniles. That was a bonus year!

  3. I have a perch on the lanai watching a new generation of Canada geese and mallards march down the pathway into the lake. They take their marching orders from their elders and in the fullness of time learn how to wing it.

    Such an uplifting post, Elaine. I spent a good part of the day in the air on a plane patterned after bird flight. It’s hard to improve on nature.

    Your writing/meditating space is lovely!

    • I’m sure it’s wonderful to be home, Marian, and settle in for a while. I love imagining you watching geese and ducks while I’m here watching Mama Blue working on a new nest. There are two nesting boxes on the fence row plus 3 others around the yard. This time, she chose one further from the house but in a place I can see well by eye and through my telescope. I not only cleaned out and aired the boxes, but we did a rough mowing of the tall grass in front of the boxes because bluebirds like cleared areas. It’s heartening when we do our part and Nature says yes.

      That isn’t my usual writing/meditation space as you might imagine. I have a meditation corner and a desk in other rooms in this too big house, but that weekend, I parked at those big south windows and watched.

  4. Haiku Blue

    I sit still. I watch,
    a dangerous unknown world,
    urging them to fledge.

    Your beautiful work inspires!

    • Thank you, Dennis. The bluebirds inspire me. I’m a broken record in my responses, but Mama Blue is building a new nest this morning in another nesting box while Papa guards from his perch. It looks promising for a second brood.

  5. This is such a beautiful post, dear Elaine… I love when you refer to those “great sky circles”. Freedom comes in many ways… But birds will be always the highest expression of it… Because they represent Freedom both in an literal and a figurative sense.
    I loved reading your post and the photographs add depth to your always deep thouughts…
    Thank you for sharing… Sending love & best wishes 😉

    • Thank you, Aquileana. I love your posts, too, with their depth teachings about mythology and the ways ancient archetypal stories teach us about our modern lives. Also the incredible images you (and those who collaborate with you) post. I love writing short reflections in blogs, but I’m also working on something larger that involves myths chosen from many cultures and their teachings about grief. I don’t know where this work is going, but I wake up in the middle of the night with new ideas about what to write and where to research. That wonderful sense of an energized cooperative Mars holding hands with Aphrodite’s passion.

  6. Love the photos and stories of the bluebirds. My late husband Wayne Trimm painted bluebirds for NYS Conservation Department symbols of NY State. They are always such joyous looking birds. Good luck with the new family.

    • Thank you, Melodee. I live next to the Finger Lakes National Forest where there used to be lots of bluebird houses on the fence rows. They just put up new fences for summer cattle grazing, but with no bluebird nesting boxes. I miss them. You must think of your husband with love every time you see a bluebird house. I thank him for his efforts on behalf of our state bird.

  7. What a beautiful story Elaine. Sometimes all we need is a time out, room to breathe and some beauty to take in, escaping in nature. 🙂

    • That’s just what I needed, Debby, and usually I ignore this need. So glad I watched the miracle–and now they’re nesting again, a little further away but not far by telescope.

  8. Thank you for this beautiful meditation Elaine … I felt myself slowing down as I read it and being in a meditative state myself as I was reading …

    These little fledglings leaving their nest … as we also have to do even as adults.

    The photographs are truly lovely – how well Nature responds to us when we are patient!

    I love looking out onto my winter garden from my study – there is still quite a splash of colour though I couldn’t name the plants … there are white and yellow roses, some primulas, some white flowering bush against the fence, some purple flowering bush in front of it, and my orchids in pots in view are lovely too.

    May Mars and Aphrodite holding hands continue to inspire you –

    • Thank you, Susan. That’s a lovely blessing and one I need–to know what I love (Aphrodite) and keep working for it (the positive Mars). Your garden sounds lovely. Of course, it’s alien in my climate to imagine flowers or green leaves (other than evergreens) outside in the winter. You and I are fortunate to have our islands of serenity in this unnerving angry world. May all be well in your world.

  9. Love this, Elaine. Can’t deny I cried a bit, but they were (mostly) tears of joy. Nature is amazing and always slightly bittersweet.

    • Always bittersweet. The news is indigestible, heart-breaking, or maddening, so I’m grateful to watch the bluebirds thrive. A small spot of hope. “Somewhere over the rainbow…” This morning I saw papa on his perch guarding the nesting box chosen for the second brood. Mama sat on an old wooden fence nearby with two kids from the first brood. She flew back to the woods with the kids. He’s still guarding. They work long hours.

  10. Elaine,
    What a sweet story-loved it. Observation and patience pays off. Thank you for sharing.

    • Thanks for taking the time to read and comment in your busy world, Deb. I appreciate it. Yes, patience and also site preparation paid off. I just looked through my telescope, and the bluebird boy is out there on his perch making sure no one disturbs the new nest. He works hard, too!

  11. As always, this is just beautiful. I love reading your posts, there’s something about them that soothes my soul.

    Birds and I have a strange relationship. They frighten me on some level (a residual effect of being chased by a chicken as a toddler) but I also find them to be amazing and awe-inspiring.

    Being out in nature reminds me of how small I am, but in a comforting sense. Although I am small I have my place here.

    • Thanks for your comment, Rachel. I’m becoming more and more of a bird nut–like an old New Yorker cartoon featuring elderly ones with their fancy field glasses. Maybe it takes getting old to have the patience for admiring birds, plus a yard like mine with nesting boxes, open spaces, feeders, and wild nesting sites nearby for those that prefer trees to boxes. I agree about the comfort of the smallness we can feel in Nature. That feeling got me through when my husband died. I felt part of the cycle of life and death, part of what was natural and unavoidable. Of course that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt, but it helped to have that perspective.

  12. I live in Upstate SC. Last year (2019) I had a pair of Eastern Bluebirds that raised 3 broods in the same house. There were 5 eggs the first time, 5 the second & 3 the third. First time 2 babies missing first morning of hatch, 1 egg never hatched, 2 babies fledged. Second time, 5 eggs hatched, 5 babies fledged. Third time, 2 eggs hatched, 1 egg never hatched, 2 babies fledged. Out of the 9 fledglings, 7 returned to my yard to eat &/or help feed siblings. This year, a pair built a nest in same box. There were 5 eggs which all hatched & all 5 babies fledged. What I am puzzled & heartbroken over is that, in the past several days, I have seen only one fledgling return with his parents to be fed & eat. Although I realize the mortality rate of fledglings is very high, & predators are everywhere, with the success rate of 7 out of 9 fledglings returning to my yard last year, I am having such a difficult time accepting that only 1 of the 5 fledglings has survived out of this first brood. There was a pretty heavy rain the night after they fledged, and we ended up having a couple nights of unseasonably cold temperatures, although nowhere near freezing. What is the probability that the weather led to the demise of the other 4 fledglings? Is there ANY possibility that more than one fledgling actually survived, but has just not returned to my yard with their sibling & parents? I knew it was likely not all 5 would survive, but I am devastated & heartbroken thinking only one did.

    • Sandra, I get it, but don’t despair. Last year was a terrible year for predators here and I don’t think any bluebirds survived. The year before that, there were many. So disheartening and sad to have beautiful eggs and then have the nest raided. So this year, because I’m persistent, the man who helps me on the land made and put wire mesh predator guards on the nesting boxes–wire entryways for the birds to keep out opossums, snakes, raccoons, cats, etc. Once a predator finds a nest, they want to take home food for their kids, but I prefer bluebirds. Predator guards can be found on line or they’re easy to make. Here are instructions: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/211247038745783450/ I haven’t had any raiders this year, but we had very cold weather in April and the first 4 eggs froze. I cleaned out the box and the female nested in the neighboring box. They’re persistent and life is perilous.

      I rarely see fledglings after they hatch. The parents usually fly off to the nearly forest with them where they’re safer. Some years the parents do a second nesting in a different box in the yard, but often not. Occasionally, but not usually, the parents nest in the same box and the 1st generation sticks around, but that’s not what usually happens here. They don’t seem to mind heavy rain and can take shelter under trees. They can take cold if the mother is with them. I imagine your surviving fledglings are fine but sheltering somewhere not n your yard. I consider myself lucky when I see a fledgling after it leaves the nest. They’re usually out of here and good teachers for me in loving something and letting it go. If you’re on Facebook, I share many bluebird photos on my pages there. https://www.facebook.com/elaine.mansfield.505 Here’s the main page where I shared a photo of 5 2-day old nestlings last night. They’re adorable.

  13. This is my first time to have bluebirds. Having an old decorative bird bouse, I decided to paint it to fill my time during the COVID-19 Pandemic. It is mounted on a wooden post next to our patio and the box is only three feet from the ground. Almost immediately, we saw a nest being build. Then four beautiful blue eggs appeared. After the eggs hatched, mama and papa have been super busy feeding their little ones. I expect any day they will fly away on their own. Their little beaks are sticking out the hole. What a joy this has been for me to witness!

    • It’s a joy for me, too, Vickie. I have 7 nesting boxes on my land and bluebirds in 2 of them–5 nestlings in one and they’ll likely fly this week and 4 in the other, just hatched today. They are exquisite. I hope you see them fledge, but I’ve only caught that miracle a few times. There are ups and downs to loving bluebirds (and tree swallows and wrens and chickadees). The mama of the brood of 5 laid 4 eggs very early and then April was extremely cold here. The eggs froze, but I cleaned out the nest and the bluebird mama chose the neighboring box while a tree swallow nested where the bluebird nest had failed. You might try cleaning out the box as soon as the little ones leave. If I do this almost immediately, the mama sometimes moves back in and has a second brood–and sometimes she goes elsewhere. I need their beauty this year more than ever. I’m glad you’re having the pleasure, too. Thanks for commenting.

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