Empty Nests and Lessons from the Experts

This summer, a handsome cardinal couple built a nest right in front of our kitchen window, while a petite set of “little birds” built their abode near the walkway to the front door. We watched them prepare the homes for their little ones, patiently sit on the eggs, and protectively cheep at us as we passed by. Then, one by one, they encouraged their little hatchlings to leave their nests and cautiously fly out into the big wide world.

We were particularly touched by the circle of life happening in our yard, because we are about to watch our last little hatchling leave the nest … and I don’t think I’m going to be quite as good at it as the mama birds that live in our trees. But, I’m going to try to take their parenting techniques to heart when I arrive at the college gates. For example, when the little bird babies left the nest, they first latched on to the bricks about 8 feet off the ground, and sort of just held on for dear life, because 8 feet below was a hard, cold, solid concrete sidewalk. The mama bird did not stand under them to catch them, but rather perched herself at some distance and cheeped something loudly and clearly in bird language, while the little ones were clinging to the wall with all their little birdie strength … I’m almost certain she was saying, “you can do it … I know you can … you can do it … let go with your feet … use your wings … keep going … keep going … look! You did it!” And, off they flew.

So that’s my plan. I learned that in a few days, I will need to step back and cheep encouraging words loudly from afar, as I watch my little gal spread her wings. I’ll let you know if it works. I have a funny feeling that the cheeping will really need to be directed to me, as I try to take this last flight. Wish me luck.

Here are the nests that we found after our feathered-friends had finished their child-rearing phase. Both, our cardinal couple and our “little bird” couple, were gifted architects. This first nest belonged to the cardinal family, and yes, sadly, one little egg didn’t make it to birdhood, but, fortunately we saved it from Neville who had his eye on it. (It’s not that he is a malicious dog … he’s just a dog, and this egg sort of looked like a puppy-treat to him.) We were also intrigued by the fact that Mr. and Ms. Cardinal had actually celebrated the manmade material we call plastic, and blended it with the local natural materials to a very pleasing effect.


When we began to transplant the second nest created by the Little-Bird couple, we encountered a surprise. As we pulled the leaf canopy aside, under which the nest was hidden, it was not one nest, but two! A duplex! We were all very impressed with the overachieving Little-Bird couple. I guess they just wanted to show the neighbors that they could keep up with the Cardinals … and then some.


Below are a few pictures taken from time to time, as we watched Mr. and Mrs. Little-Bird deal with all the challenges of parenting: building a stylish, yet affordable home, finding food, not enough water (drought), too much water (sprinkler system), and protecting eggs from predators (the curious Heck family). Here are a few lessons we learned from our feathered friends as the weeks went by:

1) Keep your eggs warm and safe, except when scary predators come by, (like camera-carrying-artists) then cleverly fly away from nest to draw attention elsewhere and cheep loudly to scare them away. Return to egg-protecting duties. Repeat as necessary.


2) Feed hungry babies with healthy fruits and vegetables and occasional sugar cereal and gummi worms. Although the healthy foods will keep them strong, they will always remember the sugar cereal vacations!


3) When it’s time for babies to fly, demonstrate technique and move away. Encourage with loud cheeping from nearby perch. Baby birds may say, “I can’t do this,” but mom and dad birds say, “We know you can. Keep trying.”


4) Watch babies take flight and feel like proud parent birds. Then, brag about it with loud cheeping to everyone who passes by. Then, go take a nap … that was hard work!


So those were my lessons from our very smart bird family, and I am hoping I will be able to follow their wisdom in a few days. Wish me luck.

And, that’s the end to my little summer bird saga … with the biggest lesson learned: enjoy every minute of your nesting, it goes by so very fast.



  1. Claire Heck August 16, 2011

    A poignant tale! We had scissor tail swallows at our house….and our first leaves the nest next Tuesday!

  2. muv August 16, 2011

    Have faith. Eventually they come back…..bringing new family members that we love a lot!

  3. Nancy Keirns August 17, 2011

    A lovely story. One of our daughters is sending her 3rd and last son off to college this week. I can see that she is suffering the same feelings. We never believe that this time will come and then like a “boom” they are gone.

    Give yourself a pat on your back. Great job, well done.

  4. Louisa April 13, 2012

    Having fun revisiting past posts of the Hecks – and may I say how much I love Papa Heck with his tie? And Mama Heck with her curly doodle hair? SO CUTE!!!

  5. alex August 23, 2013

    What an inspiring story Cathy! You’re special :)

  6. Author
    Cathy Heck August 28, 2013

    Thanks Alex. We are happy to report that the birdies to come back to the nest for some excellent visits!

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