Those adorable, demanding fledglings and the empty nest

There was a loud, unrelenting, incessant sound of birds chirping outside my kitchen window one morning a couple of weeks ago.

I delight in watching and hearing backyard birds as they gather at the bird feeders, but this chirping was more persistent than the usual, quotidian bird sounds. Ever since I learned the word quotidian, I have wanted to use it.

I spied a flash of red, and a male cardinal landed on the perch of the feeder but didn’t stay long to eat. He flew to a nearby branch where a scruffy juvenile cardinal waited noisily for his breakfast. The father bird fed his little one then returned to the feeder as the fledgling chirped impatiently for more.

But look! Another young cardinal balanced on the branch, calling as loudly as the first, and the father brought food to that second bird.

Back and forth went that father cardinal, from the feeder to one fledgling to the feeder to the second demanding bird. Again and again and again. What a devoted parent that cardinal was!

I watched for the older bird and his maturing youngsters each morning, smiling when I heard the loud chirps and saw the doting dad. For many days, the father went through the same routine — feeding his dependent children.

Then one morning I saw the father and a fledgling eating at the same feeder, side by side. It was as if the dad was showing his child what to do, teaching by example, and giving the young one an opportunity to try for himself.

The next day I noticed both of the young birds at the feeder, eating independently, as the father bird kept watch from atop a nearby fence. He was close enough to swoop in and warn them if danger approached, but far enough away so the little ones had the success of “I can do it.” I felt a sense of pride for the fledglings and respect for that dad.

Although the young ones are learning, apparently they aren’t ready to meet all their own needs yet. For the past few days the dad has stepped in to provide support. As both juveniles perched near the bird feeder, their father diligently flew back and forth from feeder to youngster to feeder to the other small bird, nurturing them the way he used to. There isn’t the same sense of urgency this time. And, although I can’t be sure, that dad doesn’t appear angry or impatient. He feeds them because they are hungry.

Maybe tomorrow they’ll try again.

And when they’re ready to completely feed themselves, the parent bird will have done his job: raising his young to be independent. I hope he has taught them how to avoid the feral cat that stealthily walks through our yard and how to take cover when the hawks are near. The world is full of danger, but still those little ones need to separate from their parents in order to start their own lives as adults and to be fully all they are created to be.

Isn’t that every parent’s responsibility: to work ourselves out of a job? We love, nurture, teach, provide, and support, all the while giving our children the tools and skills and confidence they will need to thrive without us.

This Father’s Day I want to recognize and honor the devotion and commitment my husband has demonstrated to our daughters. Not only has he provided for their physical needs, but he has always been there as a source of wisdom, guidance, challenge, example, comfort, playfulness, and love. He has helped them grow into loving, responsible, and capable adults.

Our nest may be empty, but our hearts are full.

“To raise a child, who is comfortable enough to leave you, means you’ve done your job. They are not ours to keep, but to teach how to soar on their own.”

Author unknown

Last-minute update on the cardinals: Today the family of four — dad, mom, and two young birds — visited the feeder. Together they playfully flitted from fence to branch to feeder to ground, sharing a moment that looked like family fun. The birds seemed to be simply enjoying one another’s company. And I smiled.

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