Monday, December 27, 2010

this one's for the birds

Ordinary joy. Our most profound joy is often experienced during ordinary moments. What was one of your most joyful ordinary moments this year?

Every morning as I make my coffee I look out at the birds. My mother taught me years ago how to know a common house wren from one called Carolina, a thrush from robin, catbird from mockingbird, junco from chickadee. I watch the towhee scratch for food on the ground, the nuthatch descending the tree head-down, and I thank my mother for one of the many simple joys of daily life she shares with me.

Bigdaddy & great-grandson, John, ca:1988
For bluebirds, I thank my grandfather. He used to raise them, if you can do such a thing, fashioning nesting boxes out of old pine, hanging them on the north side of the house, one in the small pine grove he planted when I was a child, just steps away from his front porch. On summer afternoons as we sat on the porch, splashes of blue flittered around the yard, father birds in and out of the boxes, feeding nesting mothers and later, growing broods.

When my husband and I bought a house in Atlanta, Bigdaddy brought me a handmade box, and we hung it on a tree in the back yard and waited. No bluebirds. We moved, taking the box along with us, rehung it, but nary a bluebird did we see. In 1989 we moved again, and once again I hung the box. No bird darkened the door for a year. One day before we had lived in the house for a year, Bigdaddy died. And on that morning as I was looking out my kitchen window, a flash of brilliant blue flittered through the yard. And landed on the door to the house. (I am NOT lying here.)

Sadly, he didn't stay, but I was hopeful. When the homemade box — not one of the fancy new ones — rotted, I reluctantly replaced it with a new one, moved the box a little more to the north side of our yard. Birds flittered through but never stayed. I put out meal worms, just like Bigdaddy did, and when a clutch took up in the plastic decorative box in my neighbor's back yard, they came to my house to feed. To bathe in the birdbath. Sort of like college students... it would be only a matter of time before they came home to stay. At least I hoped.

Eastern Bluebird, female —rountreemediaphotography
One morning earlier this year I scuffed into the kitchen, filled the coffee pot and looked outside. Blue, dancing through the yard caught my eye. A daddy bluebird was on the box. I watched, as he stood first at the door, then hopped in, his beak peeking out, then quickly, flew to stand on the box's top. I grabbed my binoculars, searched a nearby tree for Mama Blue, whom I knew was close at hand. And there she was, first on the top, then slipping so quickly inside I almost missed her. Back on the top, and the two danced a little jig, then flew away. Every morning after I kept watch, hating to leave for work for fear I would miss them if they returned. And then one day, in a flurry of wings and straw, they built a nest.

Years ago I bought a book on bluebirds, since my grandfather could no longer tell me how to raise them up. I knew now to knock before I opened the front door, but that it was ok to visit, to count. Each day I knocked, and each day I opened the door, first to find it empty. And then, joy! Two sky blue eggs. Then three. Then four. But Mama won't nowhere to be found.

Joy came again when I saw her on the top of the box. She flew inside. And stayed. Daddy flew in and out, keeping her sated. I brought more worms, and in the mornings, I knocked first, then sprinkled them on the top. Mama usually flew in from high up in the trees, out for her morning swirl, and watched. And before I was even steps away, she and Daddy stood there on the top, feeding.

Joy, again, when one day as I approached the box with my worms, I heard the tiniest chirps. Babies! I counted the days on my calendar, estimating when they might fledge, (16-21 days) worried I would miss it while I was at work.

But Mama bluebird was good to me. She waited to push those babies out of the nest on a day I was home and could watch. She sat in the dogwood, coaxing in a gentle voice, until one by one, they each took that first baby flight toward her, their soft freckled down fluttering. It seemed to take hours. And then suddenly, they were gone.

I kept feeding the worms. And my bluebird parents came back each morning for the feast.  At least for awhile. By midsummer, there was no sign of them, until one day, my father was visiting, and we noticed twigs coming out of the sides of the box. We opened the box to find not pine needles and straw but the makings of a nuthatch nest, which he advised me to remove, as there were no eggs inside. Within the week, my bluebird couple was back, and four more eggs took up residence. And I bought more worms.

This time I wasn't home when the babies fledged, but some weeks later when I looked out in the yard, four fat brown speckled birds, their feathers tinged with blue, slurped at the bird bath. 

And what do you know? Just now as I let the dogs outside, I see Mama Bluebird again, her head peering quickly into the box.

Joy abounds. Yes I can do just such a thing.