A Summer Dream Disappears

May 23, 2017

I know something is wrong with my bluebird. He sits on the edge of the bowl picking at his mealworms. Puffy and lethargic, he ignores his brood -- five nestlings waiting open-beaked in the nearby nestbox.

Scientists warn against anthropomorphism -- ascribing human characteristics to animals -- but I know a sad bluebird when I see one. I’ve been feeding this bluebird and his mate since mid-January, and today is Mother’s Day.

I call him my bluebird because he comes to my secret whistle. His mate sits in the maple shaking her tail, and he saves a mealworm for her. But today the female is gone, taken by a Cooper’s hawk maybe, or hit by a car. How cruel that it should happen now, her brood only a few days from flight.

The male has no instinct for single parenting, evidently. He leaves the nestbox unguarded, and feeds half-heartedly. I see him sitting alone on an oak limb, staring off toward the woods.

I figure I can keep the nestlings alive myself, hand-feeding them, but who will teach them to be bluebirds when the time comes?

The next day I see a wren, rat terrier of song birds, land on the nestbox. One by one the nestlings perish, pecked by the wren, or just starved.

The male hangs around still, dejected. Once a model of enterprise, he now spends languid minutes just getting a drink. What does the future hold for a widowed bluebird who lost his brood?

And what for me, who had dreamed of a whole summer of watching them thrive?

I’m Chris Fink, and that’s my perspective.