Empty Nest

Day 36 of 365

This morning was a big morning, full of mixed feelings. Our tiny neighbors moved out. By the end, we could see that our Eastern Phoebe couple had raised FOUR beautiful babies, and that little nest was quite crowded.

On Saturday, the parents put on quite the show. It was like they decided that Saturday was the day they were getting those babies out of the nest. All day long, there was flapping and encouraging–and back and forth between the nest and the deck rail, the nest and the fence, the nest and the strawberry fence posts. Those parents were working hard!

The babies were having none of it. 

It reminded me of potty training my children. You get geared up for it and decide “this is the day we’re starting.” Then, you work so hard all day, maybe two days, maybe three days, maybe a week, and then, you’re so tired you have to take a break.

That’s what happened with the Eastern Phoebe parents. After all of that work on Saturday, on Sunday, they just rested. The babies seemed content with this plan, except that mama and daddy were feeding them far less. One time, I walked up to the nest and their little mouths opened. 

But, after that day of rest, the parents were back to work yesterday, and this time, things were hopeful. There was much wing flapping from the babies. They stood up and flutter, flutter, fluttered. 

“They’re close,” I told Ron. 

“I wonder if they’ll stick around a bit after they can fly,” he responded. 

“I hope so,” I said but worried in my heart they would head out on their own before I was ready. 

This morning, Ron was watering the garden because we didn’t get the promised rain, and I was working at the kitchen table on a special quilt for a toddler. As I stitched, I could hear a lot of fluttering outside the kitchen window. When I made it to a spot where I could take a break from my stitching, I went out to check on the nest. 

I have checked on that nest at least five but closer to ten times a day every single day since the parents started building. This morning, when I checked, the nest was empty. 

My heart sank. 

I went to check under the nest, and there were no babies on the ground. “I guess everyone flew away,” said to myself and started looking around the area. 

Then, on the strawberry patch fencing, I saw two babies. They looked just like their parents, so grown up, only smaller and with that wide baby mouth still. I walked down to see them but didn’t want to get to close. After as much study as I could give them, I made my way back to our deck, feeling melancholy for myself but proud for our little parents. 

As I headed toward the chairs on our deck, a little flutter occurred not five feet from me. And, there, on one of our chairs, one of the babies stopped, rested, and looked right at me. He just stared at me for the longest time, and I, of course, took pictures. That baby sat there forever. He or she sat there with a look like, “thanks for letting us crash here, human.”

Finally, the baby flew away. I didn’t think it was possible for me to love this little family of birds any more than I already did, but I was wrong. 

Right now, I don’t know what happens next. I am trying to find research about what happens to the babies. Do they stay close? Do they head right out? Will our little parents raise their next batch in this nest (they raise two broods each summer), or will they move on? Will they be back next year? Can I make it a year without this little joy in my life? 

What a gift this experience has been! Our deck is quite bug free; my heart is full of love; and my mind has been expanded by the learning about these wonderful birds. What a fortunate human I am!

I just have to figure out how to cope with the reality of an empty nest.  

*If you are catching this blog for the first time, you can read more about our tiny neighbors, the Eastern Phoebes, in these posts: A Tiny New Neighbor and An Update on My Tiny Neighbors.

An Update on My Tiny Neighbors

Day 24 of 365

Well, I broke my promise to keep my distance from my tiny new neighbors’ home. I didn’t get too close, but I got a little closer than I had promised. To be fair, I was worried one of the babies was dead. To be honest, I mostly knew it wasn’t and knew I should mind my own business even if it was. But I am curious. I am also a worrier. I had to take a closer look.

I just kind of looked with my phone though. I stayed about 10 feet away and just held up my phone and zoomed the camera all the way in. I got a picture. I also saw the baby that I thought was dead shake their little head. Not dead, of course. Just very chill babies. This is my first experience having a bird nest so close watching wild babies. I thought the babies would be rowdier, like baby chickens. Not at all. They are so quiet and chill. They only cheep every now and then. Maybe they are really content. They do have two parents working to meet their needs 24/7. Ron said maybe they have to be quiet for danger reasons. That makes sense too.

Either way, I learned today that the babies are not dead. I also learned they are fuzzy and adorable, like ugly adorable, and now I am in love with these babies, just like I am in love with their parents.

I seem to be learning something every day from these tiny neighbors. I looked and could not find a book on Eastern Phoebes. I feel like these amazing birds should have a whole book devoted to them. How can there not be such a thing?

So I am learning everything I can from the internet. The Audubon Guide to North American Birds has been helpful but is not nearly as detailed as I would like. But here are a few tidbits I have learned so far.

  1. Eastern Phoebes mate for life! How magnificent is that? Apparently, sometimes, the male will have two mates though, but he stays with those for life.
  2. Their nests are made of mud, moss, leaves, grass, and animal hair. I am certain the inside of that nest must include Boudica fur. Every nest I have ever found on the ground around here included Great Pyrenees fur.
  3. Both parents feed the babies, and they stay very busy. I have seen so many mouthfuls of bugs headed to that nest. The babies are thankful. I am also thankful. We live in the Maine woods. There are plenty of bugs to spare.
  4. They will often raise two broods each summer. I am hope, hope, hope, hoping they use the same nest. Apparently, they often do. I believe these birds know they are very welcome here. My husband and I have our tea and coffee on the deck every morning and just watch them in action. So far, they seem totally fine with us being there, but I hope they know I love them.
  5. The migrate as far south as Mexico. I have never been to Mexico but would love to go. I wish my neighbors could tell me about Mexico. I wish they could tell me about their amazing journey. Can’t you just imagine?
  6. And, of course, the babies are amazingly chill. I will have to keep reading to see if I can find out more about this. I can’t see for sure how many babies are in the nest, but I definitely caught two little fuzzy heads in my picture.
  7. The babies will start to leave the nest in about 16 days. I think we are at day 3 or 4 right now.

That’s all I have for now. I can’t wait to learn more, and I will keep you posted on the babies. It’s fascinating to me to have these wild birds and babies to observe while Ruby is also raising her baby chicks. It’s a great vibe. We have some children coming to our little farmstead to visit in the coming weeks, and I can’t wait to share all of this with them.

Also, how devastated am I going to be when my tiny neighbors leave? There will be many tears.

A Tiny New Neighbor

Day 14 of 365

A few weeks ago, we noticed that some tiny birds were building a magnificently-messy nest by our back deck. At first, we weren’t sure what kind of birds had moved in right next door (well, above the window and on the drain pipe). They were very busy building the nest–at least I thought there were two birds building the nest. It turns out, our new neighbors are Eastern Phoebes, and I learned that the female builds the nest all by herself. I swear, she was working so hard it surely seemed like there were two of her.

This reminds me of some of my mom friends. Maybe all of my mom friends.

Eastern Phoebe by Patrice Bouchard

We were worried at first about disturbing the nest. We love our giant deck and always spend a lot of time out there in the summer. We were willing to stay away for the sake of the birds, but I learned that Eastern Phoebes are quite people tolerant. This made me happier than I can say–and not just because we were going to be able to keep using our deck. This meant I was going to get to watch some beautiful birds this summer. I was so excited thinking about what I might learn from our tiny new neighbor.

Though Eastern Phoebes are supposedly very people tolerant, I am still careful not to get too close. I can see that the female is sitting on her eggs, just like Ruby in tiny form. Eastern Phoebes have long tails, so every day, I see her up there and just see her little head and her little tail. Sometimes, when I am busying around on the deck, I see her watching me. This makes my day.

You can see her up there, right? If you look closely, you an see here little head, and, of course, her magnificent tail sticks out from the back of the nest.

Last weekend was the first time I saw her watching me. I was on the deck a long time planting seeds into flower pots, and I had been looking and looking at the nest but couldn’t see her. I was actually worried she had moved, that maybe we had disturbed her too much. But after a bit, I was sure I felt someone watching me. I looked over my shoulder, and there she was, up in her nest, with her head leaned over, peeking out at me.

I fell in love with her right then.

I told her I would never get too close to bother her. I am assuming she was thinking, “I have concerns about our neighbors.”

But I have been very good. I have kept my distance, but I take peeks at her several times a day. She’s almost always there. I read tonight her eggs will hatch in 16 days. I don’t know for sure when she started, but I think there may be babies very soon. I also read Phoebes will usually hatch two broods. Lucky me!

I also read tonight that the male defends his nesting territory with his singing, especially at dawn. Fantastically, I hear him every morning. He sings “fee-bee, fee-bee, fee-bee” every single morning at dawn. His favorite tree seems to be the one right outside our bedroom window.

This morning, the windows were open, and I first heard the little male Phoebe about 5:30 or so. It was just a little bit of heaven for me. I didn’t have to get up yet and start the day, so I just lay there with the morning light coming in the window and “fee-bee, fee-bee, fee-bee” filling the air. Ron can’t hear the Phoebe. His little call is too high pitched for Ron’s ears, so as I lay there,, I just treasured this little miracle of morning that, in the moment, felt like it was just for me.

***

Ruby is doing fairly well, but I worry about her color. Her comb is so pale. She’s eating and drinking some, but I am thankful the baby chicks will be hatching fairly soon. I had to pull her off of her nest this morning to make her take a short break. She didn’t stay away very long at all. She’s very serious about this. But I did sneak away a few eggs for a quick candling. The Salmon Faverolle eggs were all developing beautifully. I could see the shapes of the babies coming. Sadly, I am not sure that Juliet’s egg is developing. The shell is dark, and I was hurrying, which means I am not sure. Still, I don’t think it’s hopeful for our little cowbird’s egg. I’ll try to take another peek in a few days to confirm.

Everybody Loves Cello

Day 6 of 365

Today was a big day off of our little farm. That’s why I am so late to write. My cello mom work started early this morning and didn’t end until long after dark.

photo credit: Janderson Tulio, Unsplash

Our son is a cellist, and he’s a pretty serious cellist. Today, my husband drove us to Augusta, and we listened to one of the most beautiful orchestra concerts I think I have ever heard. There was the drive, the rehearsal, the making of food to eat in the car, the drive home. It’s a long day at the end of a long season of 10 weeks of driving, eating in the car, sitting in the car during three-hour rehearsals.

But, truly, it’s worth it and then some. If you have never heard The Sicilienne, the third movement of Faure’s Pelleas et Melisande, give it a listen here. It’s magnificent! And I just heard it played live by an orchestra—and my kiddo played in the orchestra. I have no words for the joy this brought me.

Thinking of the cello reminds me to tell you a story about the Eastern Phoebes who have made a nest on our deck. It was just a treat watching them build that nest over the last few weeks. Those birds worked so hard. Thankfully, I learned Eastern Phoebes tolerate people very well. How fortunate am I? I mean, I won’t get too close. I promised the female Phoebe I would be respectful of her space (I have a whole other story to tell about that later), but I am still in for some joy this summer. I read they might raise two broods! I am so glad these fantastic birds chose our deck. 

Last night, when my son was practicing his cello, it started to rain, and I had to step outside onto the deck to bring in some aloe plants I had potted during the day. When I stepped outside, I could hear my son’s cello so loudly and clearly from outside the window, and then I realized the Eastern Phoebe nest was right above the window to our son’s music room. 

For a moment, I worried about the nest being so close to that loud cello music, but then it occurred to me that the Phoebes would have surely been aware of the loud cello music while building their nest. Our son plays cello six days a week for about two hours each day. Maybe, just maybe, Eastern Phoebes like cello music, too. 

“At least that A string,” Ron said when I told him what I noticed. “Yeah, at least that A string,” I thought.  

We have a duck who injured her leg on the ice one winter several years ago. She had to live in the house for nearly eight weeks while she recovered. During that time, we discovered she loved the cello. When our son would start to practice, she would come from wherever she was in the house and park herself right under the cello. She would stay there for the whole cello practice! It was amazing!

I did some research and learned that birds process music in the same part of their brains as we do. How cool is that?   

***

Oh, and I have a quick Ruby update. She’s still on the eggs and took no break today. I gave her some leftover homemade waffles as a treat. She ate them out of my hand very aggressively and then gave me a good hard peck on the hand for good measure. Oh, Ruby! 

I will candle her eggs on Wednesday.