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The Mama Bird

            There was a mama bird in the rhododendron bush again. I have pictures, from years ago, of a robin’s nest in the same bush: from the little blue eggs to the baby birds as they grew and stretched and learned how to fly. But the rhododendron bush has grown much bigger over the years, and the current robin built her nest further inside and a little too high for me to get a glimpse inside the nest, even with my phone. But I loved watching her build her nest, and watching it grow taller and sturdier each day. She mostly wove in branches, but she also took other materials from the yard to add softness to the inside.

The previous robin family

            I could see the mama bird throughout the day, each time I took the dogs out for a walk, and she would be sitting on her nest, chin up at one side, tail up at the other side, so proudly guarding and warming her eggs, turning like a sundial throughout the day. I made a point of greeting her each time, and wishing her good luck, and asking her when the babies would be born, though she never answered me. There’s something about baby birds and their rubbery, alien-like vulnerability that makes me feel so hopeful.

            My neighbors and I would check in with each other to share news of the mama bird, sharing our thoughts about her marvelous nest building skills, and her ability to ignore our dogs. No one else was able to get a picture of her either, as far as I know.

            But then she was gone. One neighbor was tall enough to check inside the nest, after a few days of not seeing her, and he said that there were no broken egg shells, no signs of habitation at all. He said he hoped that meant she had taken her eggs somewhere else, maybe somewhere further out of human reach; but she’d spent so much time building the nest, and she’d spent so much time sitting on the nest, that it seemed unlikely, to me, that she would pack up the whole family and move at such a late date.

            I don’t know what happened. Maybe another bird came along and stole her eggs, or maybe the eggs fell out of the nest and another animal carried them off. Or maybe it was a false pregnancy from the beginning. When I was younger, I had a dog who had a lot of false pregnancies. Dina, a black lab mix, would create a nest for herself underneath my parents’ bed, scratching the carpet for nesting material until all that was left of the carpet was the webbing underneath. She was convinced that she was about to have puppies, and she even produced some milk, but there were never any puppies. The repeating cycle of expectation and loss overwhelmed her, with the hormones rushing through her body making her eyes glassy with confusion. I felt Dina’s grief in my own body and it has always stayed with me.

Miss Dina in later life

            Around the same time that the mama bird was creating her nest this spring, and beginning to roost, flowers blossomed on the pawpaw tree, twenty or so feet away. And then, after the mama bird disappeared, the deep red pawpaw flowers fell to the ground, leaving behind the beginnings of pawpaw fruit, little clusters that looked like hands starting to stretch out. We had our first homegrown, ripe, paw paw fruit last year, and I’d like to think this year we might have two, or even three.

The pawpaw hand.

            It’s painful to feel hopeful so often and have my hopes dashed, like Dina and her false pregnancies, and yet I’ve found that it’s even more painful to try to live without hope. It’s sad to think that the mama bird lost her babies, or never had them in the first place, but it would be even harder to have never seen her sitting on her nest, dreaming of her future, in the first place. And watching the small pawpaw fruit start to appear fills me with wonder, independent of whether or not they become full grown fruit; though I’d prefer to have a small harvest by the end of the growing season, of course. But just the harvest, without the hours and days and months of hope leading up to it, wouldn’t be enough. The feeling of hope, more than anything else, is really the point.

“Uh, we prefer the food.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?         

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

49 responses »

  1. Your robin might have left the nest with her young. I find broke shells around the yard after the birds hatch. Either way, it’s nature. It’s often cruel, but when it works out, it’s wonderful.

  2. Linda Lee Adams/Lady Quixote

    Aww. I’ve been feeling sad over a baby bird that fell out of our tree and did not make it, so I understand how you feel.

    I hope you do get pawpaw fruit! I have only ever seen a single pawpaw in my life. I believe it was in the fourth grade. Our teacher brought a ripe pawpaw to school, let us all take a look at it, and then she cut it up into tiny bits and gave each one of us a bite. Yummy!

  3. A very touching story. I share your compassion for those birds who lose their eggs or babies.

  4. A lovely, thoughtful post! Here’s another hopeful thought: Each year, a robin builds not one, but several nests under our deck. She then chooses the best one, and really gussies it up. Sometimes, she has the babies in the chosen nest, and other times, she doesn’t use any of them. Such a mystery! But, we love to see them each year!

  5. I hope the birds are okay and they aren’t in any danger.

  6. You conveyed such a charming sense of wonder about the fruit and concern about mama bird. Such an enjoyable read. Like you, we all hope for the best for the bird. We always do. Cheers

  7. We’ve had a pair of swallows come back year after year for seven or eight years, to raise two broods of five babies each in the tiny mud fingerbowl they built under the roof of our front porch. This year they didn’t come and I was sad … I suppose they got old, or maybe they met with some misadventurelast year. Their flight south would have taken them through California when the fires were still terrible.

    But then, a few weeks ago, another pair moved into a new nest, and they’ve raised six sturdy babies. I expect them to fly any day now.

    I’ve never checked the empty nest for broken eggshells, and I’ve never found any lying on the veranda, so I’m not sure what happens to them. Maybe the parent birds clear them away when the babies hatch … They don’t have any room in there for clutter! And once they start to fly it happens pretty quickly. The swallows tend to hang around for a week or so, but no longer in the nest, and it’s possible other species move on as soon as they’re fledged. So, you know, those babies you’ve been concerned about may well have just grown up and flown away…:)

  8. Lots of birds visit our backyard, but none have ever built a nest. Fingers crossed for the pawpaw tree and fruit.

  9. You know, maybe she met her dream hubby and moved into that giant luxury nest with in build hot tub he had build for her before she started to lay eggs. And now that bigger nest is filled with even more eggs.

  10. This is such a poignant post

  11. We all need hope Rachel and let’s hope your robin and her brood had a happy ending.

  12. Robins are peculiar creatures. There was one that built a nest under the eaves of the fourplex next door to my house a few years ago. The same robin has returned each spring to raise a new brood. Then she abandons the nest. I expect to see her next spring.

  13. Marion Couvillion

    Last year one of the many cardinals I have on my place built her nest only a couple of feet above the ground. Though the plant was thick and well hidden by brush, I worried about the height being too close to the many predators that share my place. But I kept a close eye on the nest, photographing it, and they seemed to be doing just fine, then one day they were gone. The nest was OK and complete, but I worried about them; had they fledged or did they have a worse end.

    So this year another Cardinal built her nest high on a branch, more or less out and above my high bedroom window, you may have seen the post I made of a young male cardinal protecting this nest or else showing his mating manliness by flying into my window pane, again and again, attacking his own image.. Though due to the height, I could not see inside the nest, but I again watched the mother bird coming to feed and take care of the young while that juvenile male continued to drive me, my dog, and my cats crazy by again and again flying into my window pane. Then finally he stopped and moved out toward the front of my house for a couple of weeks… Now he is back doing the same “dumb thing” again and the nest is not occupied. Could there be another female taking over that nest, or is he just the “for rent” notice~?

    Also I have a Carolina Wren that uses the gourd nest on my porch each year, and I have seen at least three families fledged out of the same nest in one season.. There is so much we can learn watching their lives developing. SAM

  14. It’s warming how a small animal can capture the attention of a human community that begin caring and wondering about that animal. In this case a wee bird. Compassion is a powerful emotion and one I believe if humanity had more of it for our fellow world citizens we would all be safer and happier. In the case of the mama bird next spring will be another chance for her and perhaps for your local community to rally in her favor. Thanks for the warming post!

  15. We loved to watch the blackbird raising their families when we were in the cottage. We found a nest in the hedge which had been abandoned, complete with eggs, as our neighbour had pruned it
    and frightened them away. In the bungalow, we had 15 blue tits fledge from our little tit box. Wonderful to watch.
    We believe Maggie had a phantom pregnancy as she nested with all her toys in the middle of our bed. One fell off in the night and it was a mad panic to find it, she was so distressed. Then when we did, she checked them all and tucked them tightly round her. She would have made a lovely Mum.
    I loved this post Rachel. Brought back some memories.

  16. We used to have Robins nesting in our ivy but when we got a cat they moved 2 gardens down 🙄

  17. I loved this beautiful, thoughtful post. Thanks for sharing.

  18. Is it possible something spooked her? Like a cat or a snake, or a hawk even.

  19. I choose to believe the robin hatched those eggs, the babies fledged, and they’re all off eating worms somewhere, with breaks to sing their beautiful songs.

  20. I don’t know about other birds’ nesting behaviors, but chickens go broody, so they don’t lay any eggs when they want babies. They steal eggs from other chickens and then sit on them. Ducks lay their own eggs daily till they’re ready to sit on them. And we had 2 of ours who went broody. The mallard up and left. And just like your robin and eggs, there weren’t any eggs or shells. I’ve read ducks will go to water, but we have a pond. It seems odd that she’d choose the unknown over her yard. And it never gets old watching chicks and ducklings hatch.

  21. hoping for the best.. 💖💖🙏

  22. I’m intrigued by the idea of finding hope as well but usually it just feels like curiosity.

  23. A powerful, touching story. 💜


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