My daughter and her friend spent the better part of a recent winter afternoon assembling and painting two wooden birdhouses. We hung ours midway up the trunk of a maple tree by our front patio. Then, of course, we waited and hoped.
During the past two summers, families of wrens have nested in our carport. We've enjoyed the brisk, daily traffic of chickadees, cardinals, finches and wrens flocking to our backyard feeders, too. They're most active at dusk, so we often eat supper while watching dozens of flying beauties jockey for the seed. The larger birds swoop in noisily, sending the smaller ones back into the trees to await their turn.
A couple of weeks before Mother's Day, we noticed that a pair of bluebirds had become frequent visitors. Their brilliant blue—the lapis of a Renaissance Madonna's cloak—was so surprising against the brown and green of our yard that our suppertime bird-watching began to border on obsession. We finally realized these two were regulars because they'd built a nest in the painted birdhouse. Our patience during the interminably chilly spring had paid off.
Four babies called the birdhouse home while their mother zipped around the yard collecting enough bugs and grubs to keep their bellies full. On that steady diet, they soon grew big enough to poke their yellow beaks through the opening of the house. They chirped insistently for more food the instant their mama flew away. "I WANT MY MOTHER!" our baby bluebirds shouted as soon as she left, reminding me of the baby bird in P.D. Eastman's classic children's book, Are You My Mother?
I stood one afternoon on the far side of the patio and watched the mama bluebird make eight quick trips back and forth to deliver food. The task looked completely exhausting, but her pace never slowed. She was efficient and gentle; her babies gobbled up everything she gave them. It's not unlike the work of tending to a newborn infant, that tiny, nearly helpless person whose cries can compel you never to question that feedings are more urgent than anything else, including sleep or a shower.
The baby bluebirds left the nest at the end of May, taking wing right on schedule and leaving the birdhouse quiet and still. I read that a majority of bluebirds die within their first year of life, falling victim to cold temperatures, hawks, storms. I can't begin to contemplate such a fate for our four beauties and their tireless mother.
After all, if the cartoon baby bird in Are You My Mother? can survive encounters with a cat, cow, boat and steam shovel to reunite with his kerchief-wearing mother, then surely we can hope for our family of bluebirds to return every spring.