At the start of spring this year, my kids and I were delighted to discover a birds nest in one of the hanging ferns on the front porch. We saw the momma busy at work in the mornings, but she would fly away as soon as we opened the door. In the course of just a few days we counted 3, 4 and then 5 small eggs in the nest. We would gently take down the fern to look at the nest (careful not to touch any part of it), and ooh and ahh at the little things.
One by one they hatched! We even got to witness one pecking out if its little shell. “Good job Momma bird!” we would say as she watched us in a nearby tree. She got used to our visits, and we always would say please and thank you for allowing us to watch this miracle unfold. It was the highlight of our homeschooled year.
It didn’t take long for those pink fuzzy babies to grow feathers and open their eyes. They would open their mouths when we would whistle- hoping we were their momma. The birdies grew, the pretty nest turned into a poopy, worm gut mess. (It’s hard to take care of a house with little ones!) We assured the momma she was doing a fine job.
One day we noticed two of the grown-up birds perched on the edge of the nest. We put a soft blanket under them just in case they had trouble flying. We watched in amazement as they all flew out of the nest. One landed on the ground and then used it as a runway to start again. The fourth one took some coaxing, but eventually he too flew the nest as we watched proudly. (The 5th egg never hatched.)
The whole process was so beautiful and breathtaking.
I threw out the disgusting nest, watered the thirsty fern and hung it back up on the porch. In just a matter of days, and to our surprise, we saw momma bird AGAIN busy at work. She was making a new nest!! We couldn’t believe how fortunate we were to witness this again.
But things didn’t turn out so good this time.
Like last time, we counted 3, 4 and then 5 small delicate eggs. We watched in anticipation and amazement and momma bird worked hard keeping them comfortable until they hatched. Finally, they all hatched. The sweet little things were helpless and happy. We checked on them every morning.
But one morning they didn’t move very much. We whistled and a couple of them would strain to lift their pink necks. Their eyes still glued shut. We were concerned that we hadn’t seen the momma bird in a while. We waited and prayed and looked, but the babies were fading fast and the momma was no where to be seen. We researched what to do and everything we read said that momma birds were dedicated mothers and that we should leave the nest alone. She would come back. If she could.
Sadly she tried to come back but didn’t make it. We found her on the ground close to the nest…but something else had found her first. It hit my sweet Selah the hardest. My little animal lover was devastated at this sad ending to life.
We decided to bury the lifeless babies with their nest under a tree in our yard. Tears were shed. My Selah prayed that the little birdies would “have a good time in birdie heaven.” We held each other under that tree. Both of us shocked and at a loss for words. The first nest was such a joyful experience and this was just heartbreaking. True. But sad. I was most upset for Selah. I didn’t want her to experience this inevitable part of life- which is death.
A few days later I stumbled upon a picture book title that got my attention: The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown. Yes, the same author who wrote the classic Goodnight Moon! The text copyright was 1938 but it was not published until 1958 (after her death). It was revised in 2016 and won New York Times Best Illustrated Book of 2016. Of course I had to check it out from our local library.
I read it for the first time to my kids on our couch. The book was simple. Quiet. And beautiful. My son noted that it wasn’t a happy ending. I agreed. Somewhat. In the book the children find a dead bird and bury it. Like we did with our birdies. A moment of shared reverence for life. A realization that while life is beautiful it can also be sad. But what we do with our sadness is what remains. The Dead Bird confirmed to our hearts what we had just discovered: We can choose to remember the joy. We can share our grief. We can honor life-no matter how small. We can keep living. And keep hoping. Knowing there will be another spring.