Birds and people have a lot in common when it comes to their babies leaving the nest.
Remember Wren Wren? She’s the friendly little bird who built a nest in our garage last month. Actually, we have since learned that Mr. Wren builds the nest and Mrs. Wren adds finishing touches. Anyway, Wren Wren laid two eggs that she and her mate tended for about 14 days. My husband and I then awoke one morning, peeked into the nest, and spied two gaping mouths. Those mouths were bigger than the rest of the babies’ bodies. In fact, we could not see their heads or torsos. Just cavernous mouths, begging in unison for food.
Wren Wren’s babies stayed snug in their nest for another two weeks, while their parents brought them a variety of insects to eat. We would sneak a peek into the nest now and then, amazed at how fast the little blobs grew into the shape of miniature wrens.
Yesterday morning, my husband entered the garage and found the two young birds flopping around on the floor. Soon they were able to fly to the top of my SUV, where they left multiple poop piles. Wren Wren hovered close by, coaxing her fledglings to follow her outside.
Lewis and I decided to stay out of the garage while the young birds completed that long and critical journey from the nest to the larger world outside our garage. I drove to Wild Birds Unlimited, anxious to share with the owners the news of Wren Wren’s babies. Scott and Willie had advised us from the first days of Wren Wren’s nesting, and I wanted to update them as well as ask what to expect next.
After talking with Willie, I learned that our wren family would not return to the nest now that the babies had flown. This made me feel sad, but I was assured that our yard was the juvenile birds’ territory and we would no doubt see them, as well as Wren Wren, at our feeders over the coming days and weeks. In fact, Wren Wren and her mate might very well choose our garage for a second nesting over the summer.
I returned home with instructions to remove the garage nest. If Wren Wren were to again lay eggs in our garage, it would be in a freshly crafted nest. But as soon as I pulled into the driveway, it was clear that something was amiss. Wren Wren was hopping about frantically just outside the garage. She flew to my car antenna and then inside the garage. This was not a mama coaxing her fledglings.
Lewis then heard some chirping in a corner of the garage where we store a very heavy steel ramp for our visitors who use wheelchairs. When not in use, the ramp folds up accordion-like and leans against the garage wall. We discovered that one of the fledglings had flown to the top of the contraption and then fallen about four feet into a steel tunnel that runs along the underside of the ramp when it is unfolded. But given that the ramp was folded and leaning against the wall, the tunnel was now vertical. And the construction is such that the tunnel was open at one end but not the other. So the only way out for the bird was the top opening through which it had fallen. That required a helicopter-like straight up flight that the fledgling could not physically maneuver.
Think of it this way: Wren Wren’s baby had fallen into a very narrow well.
Once we assessed the situation, we realized we needed to lay the folded ramp down so that the tunnel would be horizontal and the bird could walk its way out. We did so, but the baby did not budge. Clearly the little bird’s first day out of the nest had been traumatizing. Next step? We carefully raised the folded ramp back toward an upright position, but on its other end. And sure enough, the fledgling slid out of the tunnel and landed safely on the garage floor.
Baby Jessica Wren (named in honor of another, more famous youngster saved from a well) quickly flew out the garage door and found her frantic mama in about 30 seconds. We watched the whole family flutter around in a nearby camellia shrub. Then they disappeared. Hopefully to the safety of trees full of tasty bugs.
Our very own 19-year old fledgling returns this week from his journey to Indianapolis. And this is one mama who is frantic to see her baby. He did well, working with a crew to install commercial shelving and earning money for next year’s college apartment. The hours were grueling and the work strenuous, but he never complained. At least to me. In fact, I was stunned that my son-who-rolls-his-eyes-at-his-mom actually called me for advice a time or two while out of town. After returning my jaw to its upright position, I offered my best cell phone guidance. Not only with his immediate dilemmas, but by sharing some tips for lifelong problem solving. Stuff like using decision criteria, determining risks versus benefits, making a simple list of pros and cons. You know; dealing with life no matter what dark tunnels you encounter.
Mamas and their fledglings. Our offspring deserve no less than our best effort to keep them safe, warm and well-fed. And to prepare them for the larger world outside our nests.
No matter what else my week brings, I will smile wide upon hugging my son as he arrives safely back home. And just as wide when I see Wren Wren’s young ones safe and healthy in the yard.