Monday, May 30, 2011

Cheep Cheep Cheep!

It was with great joy that I observed in April two blue jays building a nest right outside my bedroom window.   Oh, to be a bird and make a nest, to sing and fly all the day long!  At least that is the fun part of being a bird.  They gathered twigs, grass, some mud and rootlets and constructed it into a cozy little cup.  Might I point out that on the average, the male does more gathering, and the female does more building.  My happy couple, mated for life,  worked together in harmony, intent on doing what needed to be done:  prepare to raise a family.

I'm not sure that this was the best choice  for the nest, in terms of real estate.  Remember the realtor's adage of Location-Location-Location?  We had a late April snowfall of 5".  It was a heavy, slushy snow that  had trees and bushes bent over by the weight.  The little nest was now on the ground.  I went out to try to shake the snow off.  I was happy that my efforts were successful.  However, I didn't anticipate being covered myself.  It was rather comical. 

View of nest obscured by the screen window

It was difficult to see the nest even from my seemingly ideal vantage point.  A few leaves of the holly tree prevented my prying eyes from enjoying a complete view of the future nursery.  When at first I jumped on the window sill in excitement to see the eggs that had been laid, they were very startled and flew away.  After that error, I put up a 6 foot ladder in the bedroom to see better.   Otherwise, I perched on the bed several feet away and used a pair of powerful binoculars.

I do believe the four eggs hatched around Easter.  It was then a flurry of activity for the parents: feedings  were required every 10-15 minutes from sun up to sun down for up to three weeks!  I watched with fascination while stuffing my own face with jelly beans absconded from the Easter basket I had sent to my daughter, Emily, in New Orleans.  One day I had the binoculars focused on the nest and heard the close-by call of  the "Caw Caw!"  I was so startled that I nearly fell off my ladder when the seeming enormity of the parents filled the lens view. To see the gaping maws of the chicks was astonishing. The babies grew rapidly and soon it was a packed house.  

I was concerned because at this time, I was leaving for New Orleans to see my daughter graduate from Tulane.  I was worried about the nestlings leaving the nest and me not being around to protect them from the horrible cat Simon.

The house-animal sitter informed me that one baby was out of the nest . I returned the following day, and was able to see that they had all left but one.  I also observed that Simon had a puncture wound on his ear. And can you imagine a cat's ear swollen?  It was a clear sign to me that he had gotten too interested in the fledglings: he was soundly reprimanded by an angry parent's beak in a serious dive-bomb. Unfortunately, it got infected and he had to be taken to the vet for antibiotics and steroids.  I had little sympathy for him though; only for myself that it cost $100. It was imperative that he and Howard be kept in the house for the duration of getting the babies off the ground. They were not at all pleased with the litter box and a locked cat door. Simon growled at the box and his  yowlings were annoying, but the birds deserved every chance they had.

The suspense and drama was electrifying:  the last baby perched at the side of the nest, ready to jump ship.  Everything seemed too premature, but the parents knew best; the squallings might attract predators, or maybe the nest was full of parasites.  Not wanting to be left alone, the baby  jumped overboard to the ground.  Hopping was the mode of travel; and even then there was a tumble every few steps. Amazingly, the fledglings were corralled with commando-like precision into the next door neighbor's catless back yard.

It was a nerve-wracking first day; yes, for the parents, of course, but for me, too!  I had so much invested in this little family.  It was as if my own little story had been condensed into the month and a half or so of this blue jay story.

The babies made various stages of progress.  This little one made progress to the top of the fence by mid-morning.  

Funny, I felt such an affinity for this family, having watched the whole incredible story from the start. And yes, there was the obvious metaphor for my own child, Emily, leaving the nest and being on her own. From dorm incubator to apartment rookery, she has taken all the standard baby steps toward independence.

As my car wouldn't start and I was waiting for lost luggage, my return from New Orleans had me housebound for two days and unable to go to my office.  It was perfect timing to watch the drama unfold and prevent a "cat-tastrophe".  Another fledgling made it to a low branch of a bush.  One of the parents was always in attendance, watching intently to assist them to safety and protect them from danger, while the other searched for food.  It was a symphony of cooperation, love,  and sacrifice.

I was brought to tears when I discovered this little one dead on its face.  I think the baby's leg got tangled in the foliage and he struggled too long for his endurance to last.  I can not imagine his parents' distress;  I was a mess of emotion.  

Two days later, high in the trees now, where they all belong!  I hear their squalling and squawking, still being fed by their parents. I read that the parental care will last up to three more months while they continue their education in learning survival skills. This seemed to be a good measuring stick for how long to help Emily, which had had me in a quandary. Her New Orleans apartment lease expires in three months. Like the fledglings, she'll need to learn how to fend for herself, avoid predators, and improve her communication skills. Not to be shown up by my blue jay family, I decided that what was good for them was good for Emily.   

Now can I get on with my life and not have to worry and obsess about my feathery family? Tonight my neighbor informed me that the little ones had been taking drinks from their pond. I caught a glimpse of one taking off into the  treetops after a sip.  I was so happy to know they are on their way to independence!  Now to get my own little baby aloft into the wild blue yonder!

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