I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville wife and mother with a passion for family travel, (mostly) healthy cooking, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries with you, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark.
June 24, 2014
“Have you seen the nest?” my husband asked me one morning a few weeks ago.
“Which one?” I replied. We’re in the middle of a banner bird season here in Nashville– The high-pitched chirps of baby birds wake me bright and early every morning, and bits of robins’ blue egg shells are currently strewn across our front yard and driveway.
“Some cardinals built their nest in the bush right beside the front door,” Dennis said. “You should show it to the kids when they get up- They can see down into it from the top of the stairs.”
I went outside and took a look for myself.
A few feet away, a female cardinal stared quietly back at me from inside a nest, which she and her mate had built just beneath the window of what used to be our nursery. When I was pregnant with my daughter eleven years ago, I’d done some serious nesting of my own in that room, spending months making sure every last detail was perfect and then spending hours just sitting in the room’s rocking chair and looking around, waiting for my first child to be born.
Fortunately for us, this particular mama and papa cardinal weren’t easily frightened- They didn’t seem to mind the comings and goings of our boisterous family, and we certainly didn’t mind our new feathered neighbors, either. For the next week or so, the female continued to rest on her eggs while the male spent his time feeding her and guarding their nest from the fat black cat four doors down. I had never realized until I watched our bird couple that cardinal fathers were so… involved. It was a nice surprise. I looked up more information online and learned that cardinals mate for life. I was beginning to like these birds more and more.
Several days passed and the eggs finally hatched. The next time I looked in on the family, the nest had become home to three very large open mouths that extended from three very scrawny, hairless bodies. For the next couple of weeks, the mother and father spent all their time feeding their voracious little ones– The babies responded by tripling in size and growing downy chestnut feathers. They also got a whole lot louder- I could hear them from several rooms away when they were hungry… which was pretty much all the time.
When I checked in on them a few days ago, the baby cardinals had gotten so big that I laughed to see them, stuffed uncomfortably into their tiny nest. That afternoon, I sat down to read in the old nursery, which is now our library. Suddenly, our dog, Dottie, raced to the window and began barking. Surprised, I looked up– and saw one of the baby birds, clinging to the window screen. He’d flown the nest!
Within seconds, the young cardinal had let go of the screen and settled, chirping loudly, onto our windowsill. I watched him and worried over what to do. He didn’t seem quite ready to fly yet- Should I try to somehow get him back into his nest?
Before I could come to a decision, he clumsily flew a few feet to our front porch. I opened the door and he hopped over to look at me, cocking his head with a fearless curiosity. I closed the door quickly before Dottie could get any ideas, and watched him through the window. The father cardinal landed beside him on the porch and fed him, beak to beak. A few minutes later, the baby bird awkwardly flew a few more feet, landing in a bush on the other side of our front yard.
I’m guessing he stayed there for the rest of the day, because the mother and father cardinal both seemed to be making quite a few visits to that bush over the next few hours. When I checked on the nest, the two remaining baby birds sat in uncharacteristic silence, probably wondering where the hell their brother had gone. I snapped a quick picture…
…and it was a good thing I did, because when I checked back on them a few hours later after picking up the kids from day camp, the nest was empty. The children and I looked all over the yard for any sign of the baby birds, but they were gone– completely gone.
I haven’t seen them since.
I was surprised by the sadness I felt to see the nest empty, the baby birds flown. Of course, I knew the birds wouldn’t be with us long, but somehow over the weeks, they had become family.
Right now, my husband and I are spending endless amounts of our time and energy on the care and feeding of our own little birds. The days are often long and exhausting, and it’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking that we have plenty of time ahead of us with this brood- plenty of time for family games and meals and vacations and general warm, fuzzy togetherness.
But that’s just not the case, is it? Well before we’re ready, our children will begin straining at the seams of the nest we’ve built for them inside these brick walls. Too soon after that, they’ll have outgrown it completely. And in no time at all, I’ll be staring at my own empty nest.
This analogy is nothing new- We’ve all heard it a thousand times…
But it’s a very different thing to see it unfold right outside your front window.
Images: Female cardinal via vastateparksstaff/Flickr; Cardinal eggs via Steve Depolo/Flickr; Male/Female cardinals via Dave Govoni/Flickr; Baby birds via Emma.Kate/Flickr; Empty nest via Zen Sutherland/Flickr