“A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.” – Chinese Proverb
The pair of cardinals that nested in the tree outside our kitchen window last year came back and built a nest in the same tree this spring. I was glad to see them because we so enjoyed watching them raise their first brood last summer. Cardinals mate for life and this pair seemed young, but they did a good job and it was a lot of fun to watch them raise their little family.
This year has not been as good to them. They had two babies hatched, well fed and almost fully feathered, big enough to peek over the side of the nest. Like last year, the parents worked diligently, flitting in and out of the tree, feeding, protecting and chirping to their young. It looked like they were all going to make it again and then, two days ago, I found a dead male cardinal near their tree, killed by my old tom cat.
I hoped it wasn’t our dad cardinal, but it turned out to be, because after I buried the bird I found, we didn’t see our dad flitting around the nest anymore. Now there was only the mom, working twice as hard to feed her family.
Then, yesterday evening, one of the babies crawled out of the nest and started trying to perch on a nearby branch. Judging by the way he flapped and swayed, he wasn’t quite ready to be doing this. He was chirping frantically, as if in distress, and the mom was flitting around, calling back just as frantically. The other baby wasn’t in the tree or the nest. Apparently, he’d already fallen to the ground and there, right under the tree, was the old tom cat.
Mr. Clark went out and got the cat then I went to see if I could find the fallen baby. No luck, so we turned off the kitchen lights and went out back, hoping the mom and her precariously perched baby would settle down, once things got quiet again.
The same scenario was playing out with a different cardinal family in the back yard. This time the baby was stranded on a patio chair, with both parents anxiously flitting around, trying to feed him and keep him safe from the screaming jays over head. That baby fluttered to the ground and into some nearby shrubbery and this morning, his parents are still going in and out the place where he disappeared, so maybe he made it through the night. Sadly, there is no sign of our mother cardinal or her baby, not anywhere near their nest or tree.
This happens every year - a heart breaking week or so during which way too many baby birds flop out of their nests and either survive until they learn to fly or die. I used to try to save them, but that never worked, so now I just keep the old tom cat in and watch the dramas unfold, saying a little prayer for each of the bird families dealing with this.
The week of birds falling usually comes right around high school graduation and, sure enough, last Friday night we heard the fireworks booming over the high school stadium, signaling that yet another crop of baby birds was about to leave that nest. I remember how proud I was when my kids graduated from high school and how sad (in a good way) I was when they left for college.
From my empty nest, their college years felt a little like watching young birds chirping and flapping about, almost ready to fly, but not quite there yet; enthusiastic about the journey, yet still so vulnerable. It’s a relief to have grown-up kids because I don’t worry about them they way I used to. Like the cardinal pair outside the kitchen window last year, they are young, but they have good life skills, solid homes and are happily mated for life…
If there is one message I’d give to graduates, it would be to live like the birds do – in the moment, fully engaged and productive. Sing your song loudly and proudly; and, whether cardinal or a crow, be comfortable in the colors you’ve been given. Take good care of yourself and your family, and as Henry Van Dyke said, “Use the talents you possess – for the woods would be a very silent place if no birds sang except the best.”
As we all know and those birds experience, life can be fleeting; bad things happen; but knowing that need not diminish the power and enjoyment of today.
Lorin Sinn-Clark is a writer for the Barrow Journal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org