The Tremendous Joy of the Nest Outside My Window


I have a complicated relationship to the crape myrtle in my front yard. It was planted too close to the house in too small of a yard, and so it’s always just right up against either the front wall or pressing down on my car in a thunderstorm. And then of course, in the spring, its blossoms spill out everywhere, which I’m fairly certain triggers my allergies too.

I’ve thought about cutting it down or having it removed. But at the same time, it provides really high quality shade for my bedroom. And so far, every year that I’ve finally worked up the courage to take it out, it’s too late in the season for tree removal, and I vow to reconsider it next year.

This summer an added obstacle appeared to deter me from cutting it down. In late June, I first noticed that a robin had built a nest literally right outside my window. We’re blessed to have a lot of birds in this neighborhood, but sometimes they can be a bit aggressive in their nesting. For instance, I’ve had to pull multiple nests out of the mailbox which was inadvertently left slightly ajar for only a few minutes before someone started building in it. Needless to say, discovering the nest actually in the tree rather than a part of the house was a relief. And when I realized that this wasn’t just a single bird’s nest, but the home of an incubating new generation of robins, I knew my curiosity was piqued beyond just a passing observation of the nest from afar.

Over the next few weeks, I watched the nest intently whenever I had the chance. I talked to the birds through my window, and tried to mirror some of their facial twitches as they looked on me in response. In the beginning, I remember I was concerned because my understanding was that the mating pair of robins take turns incubating the eggs, but I only observed one robin sitting on the nest. Interestingly, based on feather color and size, I assumed this might even be the father, not the mother, and I wasn’t even sure the eggs would survive to hatch.

Regardless of the bird’s gender, I observed that they rarely left the nest. During the hottest parts of the day, they would remain at the nest with their mouth open, panting. I put out a dish of water and meal worms at the base of the tree, hoping to help, but still seldom observed the bird leaving, and never for more than two minutes or so.

When the first eggs hatched, I was surprised by how absolutely alien the babies looked. Their skin was pink and bare, and their eyes were enormous, bulging, and seemingly closed over with big dark eyelids. Over the following days, another adult robin appeared in the vicinity of the nest and helped the original parent with feeding, although neither seemed to sleep in the nest at night anymore.

Every morning, I watched the babies flail about the nest, calling out for food and nearly pushing each other out several times. A trio of sparrows took to harassing them, picking at the base of the nest for building materials of their own before I started pecking threateningly at them through the window. A neighbor spotted a snake too, and worried that it might try and eat them. I realized at about this point that I felt some sense of paternal connection to these birds too. We all did. I gave them names—well, at least two of the four. They were difficult to tell apart. As their feathers started coming in, little white tufts appeared around their heads, and between that and the constant squawking, I dubbed them collectively ‘Birdie Sanders.’

It was amazing to watch how big they grew overnight. Within a matter of days they seemed ready to fly. Some would impatiently flap their wings. The parent too seemed to realize this and stopped bringing food as often, as if suggesting ‘you’re on your own now.’ It was around the middle of July when the first two left home. One I never saw again, but the second seemed to be waiting for me on a lower branch. His feathers were speckled and new, his eyes soft and blinking slowly in my direction. I wished him well, and by the next time I stopped by the window, he was gone.

The final two took several more days to leave. I remember the third flying out to another branch and resting there for nearly a day before leaving, while the final one (who I named ‘Runty’) remained behind, alone, squawking for food that was never delivered. By July 15th, the nest was empty. Now I’m not saying it was the same birds, but a week later, I did spot a robin family at the park, and all three of them took turns flying directly in front of me on the walking trail. One was small with still-spotted feathers, and in my heart, I’ve remembered that one as Runty.

For the last few years, raising animals has been a big source of joy in my life. I’ve gotten to work with baby goats, and my bee houses have sheltered hundreds of wild bees in this area. Watching these birds up close through the whole process of nesting, feeding, and learning to fly out of the nest though—this was something spectacular. I’m so grateful that they chose to nest in front of my window. It was really the first time I’ve gotten to observe so completely how animal families operate largely independent of human interaction.

There was a joy that arose in me being even just an observer in this process this summer. While I still don’t care for the tree in my front yard, the possibility of having future generations of birds nesting there (or even some of these birds returning ‘home’ so to speak to nest again) is tempting. Whether I keep the tree or not, I hope for many more experiences like this. There’s a joy in the cycles of life, and it’s a blessing to witness it so clearly.

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Pat Mosley (LMBT #16882) is a licensed massage therapist and life coach in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

His work is especially focused on creating permaculture in his community, which sometimes looks like providing bodywork, and other times looks like writing or designing gardens for people and bees.

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