It started in April, the spring that my backyard turned into something out of a NatGeo special. First, it was the mourning dove nest in the guest room window. We would quietly creep into the room on all fours, so as not to surprise the dove parents as they made their nest, laid two grey eggs, hatched their eggs, then fed their nestlings until they all flew off, leaving a perfectly spun nest behind.
Then my daughter noticed a pair of robins doing the same thing outside of her window. So we watched again, opening the door slowly and quietly, crawling across the floor until we were eye level with the windowsill, counting four Tiffany blue robin’s eggs. They hatched and grew into eager fledglings and we even caught their flying practice with their parents as they set off from the brick window ledge, nothing but a ball of feathers and hope, and experienced flight for the first time.
Soon, every tree in our yard had at least one nest of some kind in it. We checked on those daily too. In all, we estimated that our yard raised over a dozen healthy birds into fledglings.
It was as if the backyard had become a maternity ward for Spring.
Which didn’t limit itself to birds, it turns out. One night, my boxer proudly came to the back door and presented me with a dead baby rabbit. And then another. I had her lead me to the nest and found five more rabbit kits piled into a fuzzy circle under the Japanese maple tree.
The next few weeks became a test in patience for my boxer, who was indignant that she was suddenly, inexplicably only allowed outside on a leash, and never near the bunny nest again. She would sit at the border of grass, alert and whining, realizing finally these weren’t fun fuzzy squeaky toys, but something to be protected. My bulldog, lacking both maternal instinct and astuteness, never even realized the bunnies were there.
One morning, we checked on the kits and they were all gone, hopped off into their fresh new lives. I thought the boxer would be happy to be off leash, but she wandered the fence line all day, sniffing for her charges, whining in mourning.
And then the starlings came. I noticed the sounds of the parents making their nest in my dryer vent too late. I decided to let them live among us until their parenting was up, then dig out the nest and cage in the hole to prevent their return. We came to enjoy their songs from within our walls, which we could hear at the breakfast table every morning. The back steps accumulated discarded nest materials and the occasional feather, but those were easy enough to sweep away.
Then the babies started to arrive. On my steps. The first one was tiny, and dead. The second one was injured badly. He had a large, open cut across his chest. He was wriggling furiously though, so clearly not dead yet. I was in a rush to leave for the day, so I scooped him up, wrapped him in Kleenex and towels, placed him in a nest-shaped basket and left him in my garage. I figured the little guy deserved to die comfortably, and there wasn’t much I could do for him.
I left for about five hours. When I returned, I checked on him. He was definitely not dead yet. In fact, I’m no bird expert, but I’m pretty sure he was asking for food. What the heck? Google told me that injured nestlings like that are often dehydrated, so I gave him some applesauce, swiped some Neosporin on his gash (which he was clearly not going to survive), placed him back in his little nest, and went to bed.
The next morning, in the kitchen with the dogs at 6am, the three of us heard the tweeting at the same time. Both dogs’ ears perked up and they looked at me incredulously. I’m pretty sure I was looking at them the same way. Did that dang bird actually survive the night?
The three of us went into the garage. There he was, a totally blind, now only slightly injured (Neosporin, wow!), bundle of fuzz and faith, mouth gaping open for his breakfast. Which evidently I was supposed to provide.
Back to Google. I found out that he was a starling, and as such, not very well liked. Rehabbers would not usually take them on since they were considered an invasive species and a pest to boot. I guess people don’t take kindly to birds roosting in their dryer vents. Because of this, there was one site dedicated to rearing starling nestlings who were rejected by everyone but soft-hearted schmucks like me. I mixed up a batch of food for him from the prescribed recipe (dog food, applesauce, hard boiled egg, and Tums for calcium), grabbed a bamboo matcha spoon (so bougie) to feed him, and became a momma bird. Every thirty minutes. Twelve to fourteen hours a day. For two weeks.
Since he ate so frequently, he went everywhere with me. I kept him in his nest basket on my desk while I worked, fending off curious dogs who wanted to see what was taking up all my attention. I fed the bird while I was on conference calls, before I took my showers, while I made my human children dinner. It was still cool outside, so he traveled with me to appointments and slept in the car while I ran inside for groceries, lunch dates, date nights, and a dental cleaning. He got Pet of the Quarter in the Starbucks drive-thru line. I never left him for more than an hour at a time and he always chirped out joyfully when I returned.
As he feathered out, his cut fully healed, his wings fully functional, although not yet flying, I would take him on hikes with me. I thought it would be nice for him to experience the forest and hear the bird song. He would sit on my shoulder or in the hood of my jacket, chirping loudly in my ear, but never moving except to get a better view from time to time. He was my buddy, my constant companion, and I began to rely on him as much as he relied on me.
That all of this coincided with the last two weeks of school for my fifth and second graders was a bit of an inconvenience. I spent those two weeks quickly spooning food into the bird’s mouth while I helped my kids with final projects and volunteered at end-of-the-year parties. I even upheld my prior commitment to paint faces at Field Day. With the bird. I tucked him away in a bag under the table, taking quick breaks to scuttle off and feed him, and the kids with the butterflies and American flags on their faces were none the wiser. This was my son’s last year at the elementary school, and I’d be damned if I was going to miss a minute of the bittersweet ending. The bustle of the bird was a welcome distraction from the sadness of my oldest growing up.
I was also in the middle of launching my business for real this time. Since I had decided to start my own business 6 months before, I had been stuck in almost constant preparation mode. I wanted to get the website just so. I vacillated on the services I would offer. I faltered on building an email list. I studied the best way to grow an audience. All the while, I wasn’t actually doing any business.
So I hired a coach. On what also happened to be the last day of school for my kids, I sat down with her for 5 hours and got real about my business. It was the longest in two weeks that I’d been away from the bird, who was being lovingly cared for by my parents. Not kidding. They called him their “grandbird.”
The next day, with my children at their dad’s house on the first day of summer, I scooped up the bird and headed to a coffeeshop to write. We sat outside, him in my lap and me at my laptop, and I got to work. I started writing a book that day, and executed a game plan for giving my business the chance to grow the way I knew it could. By the end of that day, I was exhausted but triumphant. I saw the bold and impactful future in front of me and I was ready to run into it. I scooped up the bird and we celebrated with a hike and a treat at home. Mealworm for him. Sauvignon blanc for me.
The next morning, I took the dogs and the bird for a walk. This had become our customary animal parade now. With the bird on my shoulder and the dogs at their leashes, I strode through the neighborhood like St. Francis of Assisi.
Ten minutes into our walk, I noticed a cluster of starlings in a yard. I said to the bird, probably out loud, because that’s how weird my life had gotten, “There are your people! That’s what you will become one day.”
I suddenly felt a rush of feathers on my cheek and watched, astonished, as the bird took off in his very first flight in one graceful arc from my shoulder, landing softly in the tree above the other starlings.
I panicked. “No! You’re not ready!!” I yelled to him. The next moments were a blur, but I may have spent quite a few minutes standing in the yard of a stranger, at 7 am on a Saturday, waving my arms, calling to the bird in all of the dozen names we had been calling him. “Little Bit! Noodles! Tortellini!!” I whistled, made the clicking noise I make to get my dogs to come, sang a few strains of his favorite song (he was partial to “Blackbird” by The Beatles). He turned his head, looked my way, but didn’t move. He drank water from a leaf, and pecked at the branch he was standing on.
And all at once, I knew in my bones that I needed to let him go. He was where he was meant to be. This was his life, his journey, his story, and my part in it was over.
As I walked back to the house, still stunned, the rest of the lesson hit me so hard I had to sit on the curb for a minute to collect myself.
It was time to let it ALL go.
I had rescued a starling, nurtured him to health, and I needed to let him go.
I had birthed and raised a son with a beautiful heart, who was scared and nervous and excited about middle school, and although I wanted to wrap my wings around him to protect him from all he was afraid of, I needed to let him go. It was time to release him into his own story.
And I had created a business from nothing, given birth to an idea that I knew could help people, but I had been keeping it in its nest. I thought it wasn’t ready for the world. I thought I still had work to do, to nurture it into a greater version of itself before I could release it into the world.
But I knew as soon as the starling left, that there will always be more to do, more growth, more shaping, more caretaking. The gift of the starling was to teach me how to see the good I’ve done, understand the power of what it can become, take a deep breath, and release.
Because what’s the use of creating something, if you never let it go?