I feel the heart pull of Eros as I walk downhill to check on the baby Chickadees. I knock on the nesting box door to make sure Mama is out and open it gently. They’re gone! Can it be? They were all here yesterday. I look again. The tidy nest is empty as though the nestlings were never there. Seven tiny bodies full of yesterday’s hope may have been eaten by a House Sparrow since the predator guard keeps out snakes, cats, and raccoons, but not other birds.
Watching birds through my binoculars, I witness the dance of life and death. The youthful winged god Eros fills hearts and bodies with passion for life, but the ancient god Thanatos, god of death, is always close by. I seek the passion of Eros, but instead get a message from Thanatos.
Yesterday at the Tree Swallow nesting box where the female is incubating six creamy eggs, agitated Swallows swoop through the air with frantic shrieks. Out my office window, I see a hungry House Sparrow and understand. I pull on my boots, inspect the crime scene, and the Sparrow flees. A tiny featherless pink embryonic body lies limp over the wire predator guard in the hot sun. The heart still throbs in the newborn’s chest, so I gently place it back in the nest where I see a second baby bird, probably dead. The parents are hysterical. I would be, too.
The still living newborn lifts its head, a tiny body with a wide open maw. I have nothing except a bowl of water I brought for the adults, but baby birds don’t usually drink water. Still, I see the open beak and dip my finger into the water and let one tiny drop fall into the open mouth. It swallows and calms.
Later that day, the mother leaves the box, so I inspect the nest again. One dead body lies motionless, but a tiny baby sprawls on top and opens its mouth for food. Is that the one who drank the water drop?
The next morning, I walk down the hill past the Chickadee box. Death came before they had a chance to grow in their fur and moss lined nest. Walking home, I see the Bluebird male devour a squirming caterpillar—a beautiful bird playing the part of Thanatos to this caterpillar who also wants to live.
As I near my home, the Tree Swallow female leaves her nest and flies in big swoops with her mate. While they’re out, I look in their box. The dead baby has been removed by the parents but the one remaining nestling, featherless and pink, opens its mouth wide, hungry for life.
Have you been involved with Nature’s life and death struggles to survive? This can be true of humans as well as tiny birds who teach me about their incessantly vulnerable journey. For other posts about nature’s challenges and pleasures, see The Tree Swallow’s Sacred Nest or When the Bluebirds Fledged.