Naturalist’s Notebook: Leaving the Nest

Yesterday on my front porch, I witnessed one of the most important and dangerous events in a bird’s life: leaving the nest.

For the past two weeks, my wife and I have watched a pair of Carolina Wrens fly into the porch through a tiny hole in the screen. They are small reddish-brown birds with a white line through their eyes and a light brown breast. They are also very good singers. You may not know it, but you have probably heard them before.

The wrens often had a bug or small caterpillar in their beak. Then they would quickly fly up to their nest on a shelf overhead.

Most times when the parent wrens left, they would carry a fecal pellet, which is poop, from one of their babies. Our wrens, and many other kinds of birds, do a very smart thing to fool animals that might want to eat the youngsters. They remove the poop, because the smell would attract predators, away from the nest and drop it outside a good distance from the nest.

For their nest they chose an antique metal six pack holder with the bright red advertisement “Drink Pepsi-Cola” on the side. It didn’t look like a bird nest you might find in a bush or tree. It was stuffed full of sticks, roots, grass, and leaves.

Wrens like very cozy nests. In a day or so, I’ll take it down from the shelf and take a photo. It should show a hole through this mass of stuff that led to the hidden nest inside.

When I stepped out my front door, I looked up and there was a little bird looking out at me over the rim of the Pepsi carrier. This was the first time I’d seen one of the youngsters. It had its feathers and looked almost as large as the parents. I raised my cell phone over my head to take a photo.

Then another little head popped up, and I knew there were at least two Carolina Wren babies. I took another picture, hoping I had the camera pointed in the right direction and that the pictures would be in focus.

Then things got really exciting. One of the young wrens fluttered out of the nest!

When a young bird reaches the age to leave its nest, it is called fledging (pronounced FL-EDGE-ING). The little birds are called fledglings (pronounced FL-EDGE-LING). Notice that extra “L” towards the end.

The little wren could fly for short distances but was clumsy. It started zipping from one spot to another. It would fly up on the porch screen and cling to it for a few seconds and then dart to another spot. At one point, it fell into a trash can. Lucky there was nothing in there to hurt it, and it managed to fly back out. I took several photos as it bounced from one place to another.

Then things got even more hectic! The other wren flew out of the nest, and suddenly, there were wrens bouncing all over my porch, cheeping loudly.

The wren parents were right outside and were calling to the fledglings, but they were afraid to come on the porch while I was there. I decided to go back in the house, so they could continue feeding the youngsters.

As soon as I opened the door, my cat Oreo darted out and dashed towards the two birds. He had been sitting inside listening to all the noise they had been making. His hunting instincts kicked in, and he was intent on catching one of these loud little creatures.

I wasn’t about to let that happen, so before things could get any more exciting, I quickly grabbed Oreo and back inside we went!

This gave me a chance to edit photos and a chance for the parent wrens to come in and feed their adventurous babies. I knew they would not abandon the kids at this important time, and they would certainly be able to find them with all the noise they were making.

Later on, one of the fledglings managed to find the small hole in the screen and get outside, where things are much more dangerous for a new little bird. There are many predators out there, and the parents must do their best to protect it, while continuing to feed the youngster. Fledglings don’t have a big human to grab the “bad guys” and take them away. They have a couple of fearless, brave little birds.

Then I saw two little guys sitting together on the porch, and one was still outside nearby. Our wren parents had raised at least three youngsters!

The last photo is of one of the little wrens sitting on the porch floor, looking at me as I snapped its photo. See that little white thing on the floor behind it? That is a fecal pellet!

This might have been my last chance to get a picture before it finds the way out and flies away into the big world outside.

Maybe next year we’ll meet again when it comes back to nest on my porch. Maybe I won’t fix that hole just in case that happens. I hope they all survive to have chicks of their own.

Will the hole in the screen really get fixed? Maybe. It will depend on how many mosquitoes find their way in this summer.

Keep looking around you and finding things to journal about. Exciting stuff is happening all around you every single day. You should never run out of new things to wonder about.

Mr. Bill

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