Jump Day

Sometimes, you don’t have to travel far to enjoy the wonders nature has to offer.

In many cases, it can be as simple as taking a deep breath, stepping back, and having a look around.

When my wife and I bought our first home, we were quickly treated to a pleasant surprise — a house finch had constructed a small nest above our back steps. The dwelling was situated just between the porch light and the awning that covers our back entrance.

We were given a firsthand look at the beginnings of several small lives courtesy of the window atop the door that leads from out kitchen to the back steps.

Within a matter of days, the small bird became more hesitant to leave her nest. Shortly after that, frequent cheeping was audible during most daylight hours. Before long, several small heads became visible as the newly-hatched offspring rested on the edge of the nest.

During this time, we did our best to quietly come and go when we used the back entrance. On some occasions, we avoided it altogether.

As the action picked up, we began stealing peeks at the nest more frequently. The thought of being able to witness the latest developments became addicting, in a way.

It was astonishing how quickly the young birds grew, morphing from helpless, naked blobs to fledglings seemingly overnight.

One day, I went to check the nest and found it completely empty. In the blink of an eye, the birds left and were on to the next phase of their lives. I was disappointed. It felt investing a bunch of time in a T.V. show, only to miss the finale.

Luckily, a short while later, the mother finch was back for Round 2. This time, I was determined not to miss the ending of this story. At some point, I dubbed this moment “Jump Day.”

This time around, I had the benefit of knowing what to look for since I had seen this process play out from start-to-(almost)-finish once before. I checked the nest much more frequently following the first week after hatching than I did during the first go around. I also kept my camera nearby on the back counter, hoping to capture the action.

Then, the fateful day came. My wife and I awoke to find the young birds wandering around outside of the nest on the awning supports. It was clear they were going to blow this popsicle stand at any point.

It’s a weird feeling to watch a bird leave the nest for the first time. This first leap is all or nothing. The difference between life and death or, at the very least, serious injury. It’s an incredible juxtaposition between complete lack of experience and serious consequences. These birds are expected to fly (or gracefully fall) on their very first attempt and there’s nothing mom can do but watch from a safe distance. It’s amazing to realize that every bird you have ever seen has gone through this process at one point. It’s hard to draw the proper comparison to any human experience.

I remained within arm’s reach of my camera, awaiting the dramatic conclusion to this story. Eventually, one-by-one, the birds made their leap. By the end of the morning, each of the four fledglings was happily bouncing around our backyard.

We left the nest in its place the remainder of the year, hoping to see it used again.

The following spring, a robin found the small nest. She immediately got to work making upgrades, expanding it significantly while shoring up the exterior of the existing foundation with additional mud, grass and twigs. Once the renovations were complete, she made herself comfortable.

At one point, I looked out the window and discovered the robin sitting on the edge of the nest with her mouth open, it looked like she was panting. We came to the conclusion she was laying her eggs. After that day, she refused to leave the nest. Her male counterpart would occasionally visit, bringing her worms and other food while she continued the incubation process.

Roughly two weeks later, the cheeping started. Shortly after that, four small heads appeared, with yellow beaks just barley peeking over the side of the nest.

Just as with the house finches, the young robins grew at a staggering pace thanks, in large part, to frequent feedings from both mom and dad.

Then, Jump Day came. Or, in this case, Jump Day(s).

The first two newborns left the nest about 10 days after hatching. Mom was nearby and quickly got to work educating her young on the ins and outs of hunting for food.

However, two of the more reluctant babies remained on the following day. Both mom and dad continued to show up for feedings. Space was at a premium in the nest as the two rapidly-growing birds were quickly becoming too big for their first home.

The next day, the third chick flew the coop. Leaving just a single hold out. The following morning, the last of the hatch finally followed suit.

For about a week or so, the young family continued to make appearances in our yard. But, as time passed and the birds matured, it became nearly impossible to tell the freshly-hatched robins from the other ones that frequent our property.

This particular mother robin went on to hatch two more batches of eggs that season. She produced a total of 10 offspring that year.

Due to the pandemic, my wife and I have been working from home during the last two springs. One of the upsides has been more time to keep an eye on the nesting robins that have graced us with their presence.

I feel so lucky to have witnessed this incredible process of new lives beginning, in its entirety, during that timespan.

This year, the first Jump Day came quite early – barely two weeks into May. I watched, as I normally do, with my camera in-hand as the story played out once again. There is just something special about watching life happen from such an intimate perspective.

When the time comes for everyone to get out of the pool, I am always met with a unique combination of emotions. Jump Day is filled with excitement, wonder, anxiousness, and a little bit of sadness.

Though everything happens so quickly, at some level, it’s hard not to feel some sort of attachment to the hatchlings as you spend a few weeks going through the journey of life’s beginning with them. Watching the young birds becomes part of my daily routine. Then, all of a sudden, they’re gone. The cheeping is replaced with silence. You’re reminded of the absence of life every time you look at the window, only to find an empty nest. Meanwhile, the world keeps turning.

By my count, nearly two dozen robins and six house finches have been hatched in that nest alone during our five years in this house.

Our world seems determined to develop and rid itself of its natural roots, all in the name of progress. I feel incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to witness a small part of the beauty of life play out in front of my eyes.

For now, the nest sits empty. But I am optimistic we will get the chance to see another batch or two of baby birds start life’s journey before spring comes to a close.

In the meantime, my wife and I will continue to do what we can to provide a safe haven for all of these miracles to occur.

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