Monday, June 28, 2021

Second Chance

 At the end of a perfect cloudless summer day, the first full day of summer, I sat in front of the living room window and watched fireflies in the growing dark. The stars were dim under a full moon, but lightning bugs made up for their lack of luster, floating up from the grass like sky lanterns on a rising stream. The shadowy figure of a raccoon passed in front of me on the deck. 

My mind was elsewhere, specifically on a baby bird cradled in a used Phoebe nest on a windowsill outside. Eyes closed tight in sleep, it missed the fireworks display, but I wondered if it heard the Spring Peeper's lullaby.

The day before, a plaintive cheeping drew my attention from my desk to the window. Outside of my basement studio, a nestling bird was struggling to right itself on the rocks below. As I watched, it toppled face down into a crack between the stones and lay still. I guessed it was a Phoebe; the adult birds have been watching the house lately. I had been looking for a nest, but thus far, I was unsuccessful. There are many potential nest sites under the deck, and I didn't want to be too intrusive.

Phoebes are endearing birds. They are one of the earliest migraters to return to the Ozarks every year, and it's always good to see them back. They wear muted colors, shades of gray and white with a hint of yellow, but, what they lack in color, they make up in personality. They are members of the Flycatcher family, and they wag their tails happily and sing their name: "Phoebe, Phoebe, Phoebe." They construct their nest of mud grass, hair, and moss and attach it to an upright, often to the side of our house.

Several years ago, after a pair had nested near our front door, a big black snake came and scared them away. They abandoned their nest, eggs and all, and never came back. I took the nest down and glued it to a fieldstone from our land. I liked it as a decorative item in the living room, but I didn't dream it would ever be functional again. 

The nestling below my window needed a place to lay its head, and it didn't seem like there was a lot of time to spare. So I took my abandoned nest outside and, scooping up the little bird, placed it inside the soft cavity. It looked happier immediately. 

Its only real chance of survival was for its parents to find it. A windowsill near where I first saw the nestling seemed like the best choice, so I propped it up there, supported it with another rock, and whispered a prayer to the nestling's Maker.

It was still alive the following day, and the next, and I started to exhale. It was clear that its parents were feeding it. By the third morning, it was stretching, and I felt like a proud aunt. 

On day five, the little bird made its move. First, it climbed up from the nest to the top of the rock the nest was attached to. Then, peering inside my studio, it greeted me with an inquisitive stare. 

Before long, the parent came with a dragonfly...

and the little one gobbled down a tasty snack. 

The next time I checked on it, I saw only a concerned parent bird perched on the nest. On closer inspection, I found the fledgling sandwiched between the window and the rock that held the nest. Then, just as I was contemplating another intervention, the fledgling freed itself and flew to the ground. It made short flights of a few yards while its parent watched from its nearby perch before they flew off together into the woods.

With the fledgling gone, I felt at liberty to search for its nest of origin, and I found one, not surprisingly, near the place the nestling had first appeared. Tucked in behind a rafter, it was not obvious, and it was a much better location than the one by our front door. In retrospect, if I had found it earlier, I could have popped the baby back in its nest, and it might have lived happily ever after. Or, just possibly, that nest was too full, and the nestling needed a place of its own. I'll never know for sure, but I imagine by now, it's at the top of its Phoebe flight class and is learning to wag its tail and sing.

I really like happy endings. So far, this is one.

Linking with Wild Bird Wednesday