Empty Nest Season

We were lucky to have a nest of cardinals just outside a window over the last 6 weeks. The whole nesting and fledgling process played out in front of us.

Nature loves the number three, I’ve learned, so three eggs it was. She layed one egg a day. The mom was dutiful in staying on the nest for days on end. Nine, or so, days later two babies were born overnight. We were hopeful the third egg would hatch.

The father was in the middle of a catastrophic molt where he loses all of his head feathers. This wasn’t something I knew about. I was afraid he wasn’t well, but turns out it’s normal for the male Northern Cardinal during nesting season. While he wasn’t impressive to look at, I found he was more attentive to the nest and the fledgelings, especially once they jumped ship.

Sadly, the third egg never did hatch. It remains in the nest.

On the ninth or tenth day the babies jumped out of the nest. After perching on limbs outside of the nest for a while they eventually fell from the tree. The parents hovered nearby watching as they moved around in the mulch beds and under bushes and trees in the backyard. They were hiding in plain sight. They did seem like sitting ducks, ripe for a bluejay or some other predator to pick-off, even though the camouflaging was good. Had I not known they were there I probably wouldn’t have seen them. The parents were ever present, watching, feeding, alerting, and threatening if we got close.

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”

Lao Tzu

It’s a miracle that any of these birds make it to adulthood after seeing how it goes. Such a haphazard and clumsy process. At one point I did pick one up that was headed under the gate as a dog on a leash was approaching. I wore a gardening glove and place him on top of a short wall. I probably should have just put him back on the ground where he was more camouflaged. He jumped down on his own.

The two made it through the first night. At some point on that second day out of the nest one of the birds was killed by something just outside of our gate. The other one stayed in the backyard hiding in the hydrangea. It remained in the yard for another day, and when I checked on the third morning it was gone.

Out of three eggs, only one fledgeling seems to have made it, but I don’t know for sure. Didn’t see him fly or leave. He was just gone from his hiding place the next morning. No signs of a disturbance. No sign of him (a presumptive “him”). No sign of the parents.

I have a few more weeks with the last of my babies before becoming an empty nester, myself. This is two years delayed because of COVID-19. I’m expecting some quiet and sad moments in August and September.

Would love to hear from you.

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