For several years, the potted plants on my front porch and patio have been prime real estate for nesting house wrens. Sometimes they choose a Boston fern, other times a hanging planter, and once the mailbox next to the front door. That site required a “Do Not Disturb” sign, which our mailman and guests graciously honored until the chicks had fledged.
Saucy chirps announce the arrival of the prospective parents. Flitting from one plant to another, they banter back and forth about the assets of one site over another. Finally the parents achieve consensus on the best location, and construction on the nest begins: a foundation of twigs, a layer of woven grass, and a lining of soft cotton or fuzz. Sometimes, the perfect Martha Stewart touch of a bright piece of ribbon or fabric decorates the future nursery.
When the nest is appropriately cozy and comfy, Mama wren settles in to lay her eggs. Despite her small size, she is a formidable force when protecting her treasures. Her beady black eyes stare down my curious glances. My nosiness eventually pays off when Mama takes a break, and I discover five tiny eggs.
I visit Mama daily, telling her what a great mother she is. Slowly she accepts me as a nosy but non-threatening landlady, and her squawks of displeasure subside. After about two weeks, the eggs hatch into cartoon-like balls of fuzz with gaping mouths waiting for their parents to fill them with bugs or worms. The chicks sport fuzzy topknots like Mick Jagger, so I name them Mick 1,2,3,4, and 5.
Mama and Dad keep up a nonstop feeding schedule as the chicks grow, fill out and fill up all the space in the nest. In another two weeks, they have outgrown their starter home. It’s time to move on.
The boldest and bravest chick wobbles out of the nest on unsteady legs. With a flop, skip and a jump, it gradually gains its balance and attempts a short flight across the porch. The proud parents encourage it with chirps and chatters. It disappears - on its own in the big world.
Its four siblings follow his example and make short, jagged flights to my fern and hosta garden. The leaf mulch provides a soft landing site for fledgling flights. The wire fence serves as a resting place to summon more energy and courage for the next practice flight. From a distance, I watch as the chicks’ confidence and physical strength grow from short hops to long-distance glides while Mama and Dad chirp and cheer on the efforts of their offspring.
Soon all the chicks master the basics of flying and landing, and they leave my sight. During the next few weeks, I catch occasional glimpses of the family in the shrubs. I still check the empty nest even though my good neighbors have moved out permanently.
My empty-nest syndrome is the chicks’ beginning. Good luck and God bless! I’ll be watching and waiting for next year’s family as the circle of life continues.