Leaving the nest

Over the summer a robin decided to build a nest in the eaves on our porch. We have a swing on the porch and would often sit there in the late afternoon or evenings as we watched the robin build her nest.  Before long, the robin had laid her eggs and spent enormous amounts of time sitting on the eggs until one day we heard tiny little peeps and witnessed the mother and father taking turns coming to and from the nest to feed the little ones.  It was amazing how much these little guys could eat. It was a huge job for the mom and dad as they seemed to be constantly out in the yard, digging up worms or bugs and bringing them to the nest. A few weeks later we witnessed the heads of the baby robins poking up above the nest and when the mom or dad came to the nest with food the little guys were craning their skinny little necks back and forth to try to be the first to get fed.  It was the first time in my life where I had had the opportunity to watch the stages of the first months of a baby robin’s life play out right in front of me. But what came next was the most interesting part.

One day I noticed that the parents were no longer coming to the nest.  They left the birds to fend for themselves. After a lot of peeping from the babies, who by now had transitioned from a head of pink skin to one covered with fluffy dark feathers, they realized that if they wanted to eat, they would need to leave the nest.  The most daring of the two, clawed its way to the top of the nest and took a look around. You could see that it was taking everything in at length. It was the first time it had seen what the world outside the nest looked like. Prior to that precise moment, the world was one that was limited by its line of sight of leaves and twigs, its sibling, and its parents coming to and from the next with food.  Now, the bright sunshine and color of the world around it beckoned, calling it to join in. After a little bit of a wobble, the brave robin took flight. It opened its wings and took a leap of faith that it was strong enough to leave the nest. And it did! Initially it plummeted a few feet downward before flapping its wings and charging into a branch in a nearby tree. Not catching the branch completely, it fell from the first branch to another below it where it barely caught the branch, but righted itself and rested.

Now it was time for the sibling. Having seen its family member go ahead of it, the sibling was a little more brave and worked its way out onto the ledge to take flight.  Unfortunately for this robin, its wings didn’t work quickly enough, and it dropped four feet to the porch railing below it but landed safely there and took it all in stride.  Soon it was off on its own with the satisfaction of having learned to fly and then fending for itself by searching for critters in our yard.

I thought about these little guys a lot since witnessing the incredible amount of learning and growth that took place over such a short period of time.  I wondered how it might have been different if their parents hadn’t left them to fend for themselves so they could master the new skill of learning to fly.  I believe that knowing when to jump in and when to pull back is one of the most challenging aspects to parenting. It is so hard to see our children struggle.  To watch them crash land. Truth be told, however, sometimes they need it in order to truly grow and learn. Sometimes the best thing we can do is give them space to master new skills.

While observing the little robins working on their new skills, something caught my eye in my periphery.  There, just five yards away, one of the robin parents perched on a nearby fence. They weren’t far away at all.  They hadn’t abandoned their babies at all. In fact, one of my neighbors shared with me that they had seen the mother with one of the young robins, within a week or so after they left the nest, foraging for food together in the yard.  They were staying close, but instinctively understood the need to pull back to ensure their offspring learned true independence.

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