Fly, bird, fly

This is my Sunday column for the July 7, 2013 Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Fly, bird, fly
By Aaron J. Brown

No one who lives in the woods lives alone. Sometimes amid the din of family life we forgot that we share our address with thousands of creatures who regard us with the same indifference we usually show them.

Some years ago wrens built a nest underneath the deck in our backyard. As wrens go, these did well for themselves and their kind. These enterprising birds wove a sturdy, dark brown nest into the joint of two support beams, largely protected from sight and rain. Several generations of wrens nested here over subsequent years, with offspring returning to nest the following year.

Well, last year some kind of family dispute must have broken out. Wren siblings, I presume, squabbled over the good nest, resulting in several competing nests being built along the same beam. Unlike the mother nest, these were smaller, built loosely, almost haphazardly – reflecting the tragic chaos found in the fall of a prominent, landed family. Eggs fell from these ramshackle dwellings onto the landscaping rocks below, with most nests being abandoned with the same haste in which they were built.

Later that season, our boys peeked through the deck slats at a new batch of eggs. They burst into the house with big news. The eggs were blue!

Read the rest below the jump:

Robins had taken over the nest, building the walls even taller and more splendid than before. We assured the boys that there was nothing wrong with the blue eggs and, from then on, the wrens’ loss was the robins’ gain.

What’s amazing about robins, and most birds, is how quickly seemingly inanimate eggs hatch into wiggly meatballs capable of escaping the surly bonds of earth through the power of independent flight. From the egg to the heavens in just a couple weeks.

Last Sunday, the robins fledged. This was the first time I’ve been conscious of the birds’ big day. In past years the chicks were simply there one day and gone the next. Naturally, it was the day I mowed the lawn. Mama and Papa Robin were none too pleased with that. They already had to worry about hawks flying high above, our overconfident little terrier bounding about the yard, along with countless other natural threats. The last thing the robins needed was a giant machine that spins blades at, roughly speaking, “baby robin neck” level.

There was much swooping and angry tweeting in my direction. Is there a way to say “I will not mow down your children” in North American bird? I checked Google, and the answer appears to be no.

During the day I saw the fluffy adolescent robins bouncing around the landscape, fluttering up to the fence, eventually to the trees above. Their parents guided them along the branches, fending off dogs and birds with much bravery. As I was raking the yard – the final stage of a long day’s work – I peered up at what thought was an empty nest. But it wasn’t empty.

A single fledgling stood stone still on the edge of the nest. It did not look down. It appeared to be staring straight ahead, undeterred by the lumbering figure I must have represented. I took a picture with my iPod. I ran in to get the better camera and took several more flash pictures. Like a stoic celebrity on the red carpet, the bird bore a steady gaze on the horizon.

A juvenile robin prepares to fledge from its nest.   Aaron J. Brown

I whistled. The bird whistled. Surprised, I whistled again. The robin again replied. This time he or she looked at me briefly and, realizing I was not a robin, returned to its nervous posture.

I like to think I told the little bird that I’ve been there. Sure, I was just riding the “robin chopper” around the yard and that barking monstrosity is around all the time. Sure, the hawk shadows float by and mom and dad are up in the trees with your ambitious siblings. Maybe you didn’t get all the food and attention you wanted during your two week life so far. Maybe the idea of staying in the nest appears the safest, best option.

Just go for it. It’s not the safe option. It’s the way it’s got to be. The sky is blue and you can’t beat this weather. Ride the light west winds. Have all the worms you can eat in the fresh cut lawn. See you next spring. If you make it. If I make it. We find so many variables in this changing world. Only one thing brings about the next thing.

Fly, bird, fly.

Aaron J. Brown is a writer and instructor at Hibbing Community College. He writes the blog and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio (

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