Baby birds are leaving the nest everywhere I turn.
My Facebook feed has been peppered the past couple of weeks with photos of friends’ kids heading off to college, many for their freshman year.
And two days ago, as if mirroring those coming-of-age images reflected on my computer screen, I watched in astonishment as three young wrens took flight for the first time just outside my kitchen window.
It may be my fault they flew the coop.
Wren occupants of our birdhouse usually become accustomed to my camera lens just a few feet from their doorway, since most years I photograph their comings and goings as soon as they start nesting. But I’ve been away so much this summer that these parents were more skittish than usual when I opened the window to capture their insect meal delivery service.
Having witnessed wren parents attack a snake that had raided their nest a couple of years back, I assumed the normally courageous birds would resume their feeding duties after a couple of minutes. I waited, camera poised, arms and core muscles starting to feel the burn during the standoff.
But the parents not only didn’t come closer (I saw one perched a couple of yards away with a tasty morsel in its beak), they seemed to decide that this was a good opportunity to force the kids out.
One by one, the fledglings — which were now so big that I first mistook them for adults — perched on the doorway yelling for food. When it didn’t arrive, the boldest chick spread its wings and took flight, clearly for the first time. As soon as the first chick fluttered away, the second stepped up to the plate and followed suit.
The third and final chick spent more time than the other two perched in the doorway calling out for food and family. It took a full five minutes before #3 stepped over the precipice and flew away in the same direction as its siblings.
Witnessing this milestone was a little heart-wrenching (especially since I may have forced it), but not as much as might have been expected.
My guess is I would have been more stressed if I hadn’t already sent my own kid off to college a year ago. At the time, he was nervous about leaving his friends and relocating to a school 11 hours away. I felt as if I was pushing him out of the nest.
My deeper panic stemmed from feeling that my time was up for parenting.
I know now that’s not true at all. Parenting via text and phone conversations has proven to be surprisingly gratifying, and the nature of our interaction is more substantive. I love watching him solve his own problems, juggle the various demands on his time, set ambitious personal goals, and handle the curveballs life throws his way.
Just like the fledgling wrens, my son was ready to leave the nest whether he knew it or not at the time. The scariest part was looking over the edge before taking off.
Nobody has been back to the birdhouse. But based on the little bit I’ve read about nesting behavior, the parents are probably still guiding the fledglings on lower ground somewhere (I’m choosing to remain optimistic about this).
Somehow I feel the wren couple used the opportunity of my open window and camera pointing at the birdhouse to say to their chicks, “Now is the time. You’re ready to fly.”
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