I relish my quiet time in the morning before the household wakes up when I can sit, read, and write without the distraction of television, radio, or other imported noises. I’ll open the door so I can hear sounds like the wind, rain, or wildlife outside. The birds in the yard seem to delight in the dawn hours as much as I do. Their cheerful songs drift through the open screen this morning and remind me of something that happened a couple of weeks ago.
One evening my husband and I were out in the yard surveying the trees and discussing the work that needed to be done to trim them and clear up the yard. All of a sudden we heard the birds making a loud ruckus. We turned around to see our dog with a baby bird in his mouth. He dropped it after we scolded him, and we kept a close eye on him until we put him in the kennel. I also locked up our cats in the garage before checking the baby bird’s condition. As I cautiously approached, I listened for alarm calls from the adult birds in the trees, but they remained quiet. The baby’s eyes were wide open and feathers were ruffled, but I couldn’t tell if it was injured. I was tempted to pick it up and place it on the branches of a tree where it would be less vulnerable, but decided against that. I have heard that sometimes the parents won’t help a baby bird that has been handled by a human. It seemed best not to interfere any more than necessary. I went inside for the night, hoping to check the next day to see if it had found its way back to safety.
I wasn’t able to check the next day, so I don’t know whether the little bird survived the ordeal. I’ve thought about the experience a number of times since then, because it seemed so remarkable to me that the birds didn’t seem to consider me a threat. Looking back, I also realized that the initial distress calls we heard must have been from more than just the baby bird’s parents in order to attract our attention. I imagine that the birds living in our yard reacted the same way as any community would when one of its young is threatened.
I couldn’t help but compare my own parenting experiences to the birds’ when their babies leave the nest. Krista Tippett once said that “the experience of becoming a parent is … one of excruciating vulnerability and loss of control.”[i] After my first baby was born, I sometimes felt overwhelmed by the responsibility and lifelong commitment that I had made by having a child. When my children were young I was much more able to prevent harm to them, but now that they are grown up with lives of their own, about all I can do is hope that I prepared them well enough to be able to find the strength and resources they need when they encounter life’s challenges. The adult birds couldn’t swoop down and rescue the young bird when it was in the jaws of the dog. The only thing that they could do was raise all of their voices in alarm, and that made a difference in the end. I’m grateful to my winged, two-legged neighbors for what they had to teach me on an ordinary summer evening.
[i] Interview with Dr. Sylvia Boorstein, On Being, March 29, 2012