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Getting a front row seat for the circle of life

Published: Thursday, June 27, 2013 9:44 p.m. CDT

Once in a while we get a front seat for one of nature’s great shows. My family has been fortunate enough to witness one of these shows the last several weeks.

Sometime this spring, a mother robin decided that my window ledge outside our living room would make a great place to build a nest. I would like to say that I watched her during the entire building process, but I can’t. She built this thing in mighty quick order. Literally, it seemed like one day there was nothing and the next day there was a nest.

It stayed empty, with hardly any activity for some time. The strands of grass and sticks and little bits of plastic and other paraphernalia were intricately woven into the neatest little home. Individually, each of these items might be prickly or stiff, but at the hand of an expert nest builder, they mold together to form a soft and protective place to raise a family.

One day I strolled over to the window to take a look. I was thinking maybe that the builder of this fine nest had abandoned it for some reason. Maybe they noticed us on the other side of the glass. Maybe they sensed the dog. But wait ... there were four little blue eggs.

In a few moments, momma flew back to the nest and settled herself over the eggs with a gentle touch. I could stand on the other side of the window and just watch her. She rarely would leave even if I was just inches away. Imagine the thoughts going through her mind. Her instincts to protect her young are as strong as our own.

After we returned from our Myrtle Beach baseball trip, the four baby chicks had hatched. They were naked with eyes shut and completely helpless. Their long, emaciated necks stretched until they looked like they would snap right off. These newborns definitely qualified for the “only a mother can love them” label. They were pretty homely, to say the least.

Every few minutes, either mom or dad would flutter out of nowhere and drop off a mouthful of something disgusting. The parent would convulse and upchuck what looked to be, or used to be, a worm. The little tykes would gobble it down with zero hesitation.

I then noticed something quite interesting. There wasn’t any poop in the nest. Believe me, most of us know from experience that babies are quite good at the digestive process. Upon further investigation, the parent would feed the little chicks and then pick up any waste and take it away. These were some pretty good parents.

It was at that point I yelled at my boys to clean up the living room.

Over the next few days those little birds quickly broke out in fluffy feathers and seemed to be doubling in size almost nightly. As they grew, the parents would stop by less frequently. Between feedings, the four siblings would sleep.

It was quite amusing to watch. The four of them were quickly outgrowing their home. Each day they looked more uncomfortable and were constantly jockeying for position within the nest. No matter what contorted position they were in, though, they still managed to feed from their parents and sleep.

I did a little research and discovered that once the first brave youngster leaves the nest the others will be gone in just a couple of days. I’m sure that when I return from the boundary waters they all will be gone.

I realize that the survival of these four little birds is marginal at best. In fact, everywhere I read stated that usually only one out of four will make it. The strong survive.

Even though this life cycle of nesting, laying eggs, hatching and leaving the nest happens millions of times around the world every year, it has been both fun and interesting to have a front row seat to the entire process. Will this particular mother be satisfied enough with this nesting location to come back next year? We can only hope so.

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