While continuing to “re-imagine” my own nest, I recently followed the progress of a real-life Robin’s nest on our front porch. Upon watering one of my hanging plants, I came across a Robin’s nest with five aqua-colored eggs resting inside. These birds had chosen an idyllic location, shady and protected from the elements, with the planter walls creating a naturally cozy environment.
In order to view the nest I had to stand on a step ladder and peer inside the planter from above. As soon as I closed the front door and came outside, the Mama bird rustled quickly out of the nest and perched on a nearby branch, eyeing my every move. She seemed quite threatened about the safety of her babies. I took a quick photo of the nest and went back inside, as the Mama returned immediately to her eggs.
A couple of weeks later, I peeked inside the nest again and – much to my delight- saw several tiny yellow beaks. As I marveled at these baby birds, I listened to the Mama bird angrily wailing in a nearby tree. Her fear for her babies was primal! Over the next few days, I continued to observe the now fuzzy baby birds snuggled tightly inside their nest. One day, as I approached the nest, a lone bird flew right out of the nest and circled the porch awkwardly, finally landing in a small bush. Now, only two of the original baby birds remained inside the nest. The following day, the nest was empty! All the baby birds were gone, and the Mama and Papa were nowhere to be seen. Upon discovering their departure, I was filled with an immense sadness.
Reflecting upon this miracle of nature, it was difficult not to juxtapose this Robin’s nest against the “nests” that humans create for our families. It is remarkable to note the short time span that elapses for a Mama bird to lay her eggs, incubate and hatch those eggs (just two weeks), then care for the young birds until they are able to fly, defend themselves and learn survival skills (four weeks or less.) Basically, within 3-4 weeks of birth, the babies are ready to leave the nest and live independently.
In contrast, our children temporarily leave the nest during college, but they can remain in the nest– or at least attached physically, emotionally and/or financially– for decades!
Still, I find it heartbreaking, in a way, to think that after just a few weeks of family bonding, the parents and the baby birds all leave this nest– that has been painstakingly created– forever. The parents will make other nests in the future (I learned that Robins can have 2-3 clutches of eggs each year) and start new families, but the original family unit of parents and their offspring will never again live together. This fully epitomizes the “empty nest.”
As I maintained in my first blog post last January, my nest will always be a place where our children can return and feel safe, cared for and loved unconditionally. It is not so much a function of where we live physically, but rather, the family ties that bind us forever, wherever we are in the world. And, even though those baby birds will enjoy boundless freedom to fly and explore the world, I would happily forego some of that freedom for a lifetime of familial closeness. It is comforting to realize that my nest will never be truly empty.