May 14, 2008

The Bird

5/14/2008 — cori

We are the proud owners of a barn swallow nest (including the momma, pappa and baby birds) which rests serenely on our front porch up in the top corner of an archway. They chose to make our home their home last year....and we couldn't be more thrilled. We learned so much from watching them. And the fun thing is, they return to the same nest year after year.

So when our little bird family arrived this spring, we were filled with anticipation of how many eggs there might be and excited to watch the mommy and daddy birds feeding the baby chicks. I never imagined this would be a science experiment gone bad.

Today, as I was walking back inside through the front porch, I happened to look down and notice the huge white mess that is the side effect of lodging birds throughout the spring. I was going to remind the kids to spray off the porch when I noticed a slightly larger mass in the middle of the mess. I gasped. Upon hearing such a noise from their mother, the kids (as well as the neighbor kids) all ran in my direction.

To my horror, there lay a tiny, helpless chick on the ground - evidently pushed out by it's nest mates. The kids were full of questions and being the n0n-biologist that I am, I had very few answers. Everyone had some sort of suggestion, "Let's put it back in the nest....Let's make a nest for it and nurse it until it grows strong and can fly...Let's examine it."

What was I to do? It appeared to be dead, but upon closer examination by all 5 children, they noticed the slightest bit of movement and all declared together, "It's alive!" and jointly turned their heads to me to find out what wisdom I was going to dole out.

How does one nicely say, "this adorable, little, fuzzy, blind creature was most likely pushed out of his cozy and perhaps slightly too small nest by his greedy, hungry nest-mates while reaching for food and the mommy and daddy bird will do nothing at all to save the poor chick and chalk it up as a loss and one less mouth to feed - so goes the cycle of life. And we can do nothing about it. If we interfere, the mommy and daddy will abandon the rest of the chicks too."

I felt like Scrooge. I felt like I was teaching them the cruel, cold, hard facts of life before they were able to wrap their little minds around this awful concept. My advice...leave it be, this was just the cycle of life. The collective sigh could be heard through-out the neighborhood.

Then I got bombarded with the "whys". "Why can't we put him back in his nest? Why can't we feed it and watch it grow? Why did he try to fly out? Why won't the mommy bird come take care of it? Why isn't there anything we can do?" I wasn't prepared to teach these lessons today.

Thankfully, Gavin came up with the most compassionate solution, "Let's bury it" he said. Why didn't I think of that? Then everyone moved into action. We found a nice burial site out in the back yard. Some dug with shovels, others with their hands. Some helped me find something to pick it up with (which totally grossed me out!) and other's were thinking of cleanliness and safety and got the hose to wash off the porch with. We were an efficient and compassionate burial team.

We gave our regards to the poor bird, talked some more about the cycle of life, especially in the wild and felt better that the poor thing could 'decompose properly under the dirt' (Gavin's terminology - of course he was only thinking of practicality) and not be left as food for some wild animal (like we have any in our little suburban neighborhood).

This begs one one ever ready to bury a bird? Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do, whether it's in your job description or not.

Nature is a great teacher. We can learn much by watching, listening and respecting it.

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