Seeing life outside the window

An empty nester finds a parallel between the offspring of birds and her own.
June 25, 2003
By Claudia Beechman

Everyone is talking about the rain, which I'm as tired of as everyone else, but I believe the unusual weather provided me with two special blessings - because humans aren't the only ones who seek shelter.

One soggy afternoon in late May, I noticed that our pyracantha had bloomed. Instead of the bright orange berries of fall, delicate white florets punctuated the dense emerald-green shrub. I decided that they would make a nice nosegay. I went to the kitchen drawer for my clippers and walked back into the living room, to the bank of windows where the pyracantha was putting on its show inches from the glass. I threw open the sash and pushed the screen out far enough to enable me to cut the flowers, carefully avoiding the long, sharp thorns.

Suddenly, I noticed something totally unexpected - a nearly perfectly camouflaged nest. It was the size of my cupped hand. Breathless, I moved in closer and saw a tiny beak opening and closing. I stayed rooted to the spot, and soon, the mother, which had been chirping melodiously nearby, returned to her perch.

When it comes to birds, I am an ignoramus. I tried to imagine what kind of bird she was - exotic, surely, with a dab of orange on her wing and a bright orange beak. She was also quite plump. For the rest of the day, I found myself returning to the miracle that seemed to be unfolding inches from my face.

I kept hearing the chirping and wondering what species of bird it was.

My speculation ended with the arrival of a bright red cardinal; its brilliant plumage contrasted with the muted grays and browns of the female. Every time I returned to the window, I witnessed a new tableau of avian life - the appearance of a second tiny beak opening and closing, then two tiny heads straining upward for food. I saw the mother, then the father, then both dropping various insects into the eager beaks of their young. When two burly young men arrived to lay some carpeting, both cardinals happened to be "home," and I summoned the workmen to the window. "Wow!" they exclaimed during a time-out from their heavy lifting and hammering.

Each day as the chicks matured, I developed a greater understanding of the term empty nesters, which my husband and I had become in January; I knew I would be sad when my birds left.

I watched them lift their wings, tentatively at first, then hop a short distance from branch to branch and then disappear. When it rained again, I expected to see them back in the nest, but they were gone. Feeling somewhat forlorn, I left for a poetry conference for four days.

The day of my return, I took down a basket of impatiens from a hook on the front porch. My watering can poised above it, I suddenly noticed that the plant looked somehow misshapen. I gently pulled back the leaves, and there, in the middle, practically inverted, was another nest! I gazed into it and saw what I thought at first were five stones - of course, they were eggs.

I didn't immediately know it was a finch nest. The mother was away. I later took down the basket to show my son, the last one to leave home.

Suddenly, a small bird emerged from the plant and darted away. She landed on the branch of a nearby tree. She had a pointy beak and striped head, and her loud screeching belied her delicate form. A neighbor identified her as a finch. I also learned that cardinals are a part of the finch family, that they symbolize good luck and finches, activity.

The next time I took the basket down to water it, my finch flew through the front door into the living room and landed on one of the stairs.

How could I lure her back out the front door without frightening her? I'm not much of a whistler but I can sing. So, standing in the doorway, I started crooning to her rather faintly; she immediately responded, cocking her head in all directions. The notes became louder and higher. She flew down and landed on the sofa. I continued to sing, sounds rather than words - I felt like Rima the Bird Girl in Green Mansions. Seconds later, she soared out of the house. She no longer flies away when I approach the basket, but shows her proud little head.

I've learned I must be careful to respect her space - just as I've learned to respect my sons'.

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