Nature is the great teacher, especially concerning raising children. Psychiatrists and Psychologists have been studying simple animal behavior for centuries because it runs parallel to complex human behavior. According to Psychology Today;
“Animal behavior research is particularly relevant to the study of human behavior when it comes to preservation of a species, or how an animal’s behavior helps it survive. For example, the behavior of animals in stressful or aggressive situations can be studied to help find solutions for humans in similar circumstances.”
We chose mates to procreate, and raise families with the hope that our offspring will be emotional, mentally, and physically fit enough to do the same in order to continue the family tree. But what happens when Junior refuses to leave the nest?
This is the story of Willful Junior Mourning Dove and his gentle parents.
It was the beginning of a new day dawning on the porch overlooking the golf course. The sound of the waterfall fixture in the corner soothed the soul. As I sipped my coffee, the three bird families had been awake for hours, and there was no indication that today was any different from any other day that had been unfolding for the past month. But it was. It was time to fly.
Yes, this idyllic home was literally, rock-a-bye-baby. It had been weeks since their parents had slept with them. The Hummingbird twins had the condo to themselves while mom and dad kept careful watch from the distant orange tree.
Mr. and Mrs. Hummingbird had twin fledglings crammed into a tiny thimble sized nest built of spider webs, tiny leaves, and feathers balanced precariously on the very tip of a long thin fig tree branch. When the cool evening breezes made their way over the mountain tops, it would gently rock them to sleep. Yes, this idyllic home was literally, rock-a-bye-baby. It had been weeks since their parents had slept with them. The Hummingbird twins had the condo to themselves while mom and dad kept careful watch from the distant orange tree. Making clicking sounds, so they knew it was me, I checked on them nightly to be sure the teeny-tiny darlings were safe and sound. This had been part of my ritual since they were two eggs no bigger than a pencil eraser.
Farther to the right of the Hummingbirds and toward in the middle of the fig tree was another nest balanced between two branches and made of twigs that appeared to have been hastily thrown together. In it sat the single offspring of Mr. and Mrs. Mourning Dove named Junior. Whichever parent did not stay with Junior hooted all day long from the rooftop like a night owl with a shudder. The Doves never left their little darling alone. Unlike the Hummingbirds, the Doves took turns sitting on Junior day and night.
Around the corner, sixty feet away from the fig tree nests, the Mocking Birds lived high in the branches of an olive tree. Their nest was built in the crook of a large branch between the trunk of the tree. The deep, sturdy nest housed triplets.
Then, one morning it was as if Mother Nature yelled, “Everyone up and out for school!”
The Hummingbird twins were gone. They were in the orange tree with their parents. When I clicked to them, they flew in a zig-zag motion to the fig tree. One of them hung upside down on a branch and looked at me through his tail feathers as if to say, “Look. I’m flying. I’m a big boy now.” Then their parents called them back into the orange tree. The Mocking Bird triplets were on the ground, hiding in the ornamental bushes until their parents showed up with food. Then they hopped and beat their tiny wings against their sides to get fed.
I checked on Junior. He was alone in the nest and peered down on me while I peeked up at him. He bobbed his head as if to say, “Where are they? Are you going to feed me?”
From the roof came the call of Mr. and Mrs. Dove. “Breakfast is ready. Come and get it.” Junior did not budge. In the orange tree, the Hummingbird twins were perfecting their miraculous flight skills. It has been scientifically proven that it is aerodynamically impossible for hummingbirds to fly. Thankfully, the scientists forgot to tell the Hummingbirds, and the triplets have not yet learned to read.
By noon the Mockingbird family was safely perched together on a branch that became a Jungle- Jim for the triplets.
Despite Mr. and Mrs. Mourning Dove’s constant verbal coxing Junior still sat alone in his nest.
Finally, Mrs. Dove flew onto the branch, look at Junior who was bobbing his little head begging for food. She flew to the ground and called to Junior who peered over the nest at her, but did not budge. Mrs. Dove was joined by Daddy Dove who also called to Junior. All of which was being observed by the other bird families. You could almost imagine the Mocking Birds snickering to each other, “Tisk, tisk.”
Finally, Mr. Dove flew up to the nest. When junior stood up and began to bob his head daddy gently climbed into the nest behind him and PUSHED him to the edge. Junior teetered and then fell, fluttering and flapping all the way to the ground.
Daddy Dove had given baby boy the boot.
Junior landed next to mom who immediately fed him. Then Mrs. Dove led Junior behind the water feature where he snuggled against her, and they adjusted to Junior being out of the nest.
With the problem of Junior solved, or so it seemed, and as if on cue, tiny Mrs. Hummingbird flew like a UFO spaceship to her branch and proceeded to destroy her nest. She ripped big chunks out of the nest and threw them into the air until what was left fell to the porch floor and blew away. The big message from the tiny bird was clear; “Kids, you cannot come back.”
I checked on the Mocking Bird family. While Daddy Mockingbird fed the triplets, Mrs. Mockingbird was busy pulling the anchor twigs out of their nest which then collapsed inward and fell from the tree.
The sound of my cell phone called me back to the porch. It was a scuba diving friend calling to tell me she and her husband had sold the big family home up north and were moving into a smaller condo close to me in the Palm Springs area. “What about your sons in college? How are they going to feel about this and how are you all going to fit everyone into a small two bedroom condo?” I asked.
“Oh, we haven’t told them, yet,” she laughed. “But, we warned them years ago that once they left for college, they were officially out of the house. We agreed to pay for their schooling as long as they maintained good grades. So, they won’t be that surprised. The condo’s second bedroom will be an office with a Murphy Bed, and the Livingroom will have a sleeper sofa in case they both come home for a weekend. We want them to visit but not be so comfortable that they won’t want to leave. After all, it is so much more comfortable to live at home and be taken care of, but those days are done. ”
My friend’s words reminded me of a TV commercial. A college student hugs his tearful parents good-by on the home porch as he prepares to drive away to college. The street lights come on to symbolize a rite-of-passage and the end of his last day as a child. The parents solemnly close the door behind them. Then they peer at each other, break into a huge grin, turn up their oldies music and dance around the house while preparing a romantic dinner for two. Suddenly the doorbell rings. They cautiously peer out the front window and standing on the doorstep is their son. All the house lights turn off. Junior is standing in the dark scratching his head.
It was the human equivalent to the Birds destroying their nests.
After this surprising conversation with my friend, I checked on Junior Mourning Dove behind the water fall. He was alone. Mom was calling to him from the rooftop. But, Junior was fed, safe, comfy, and having none of flying anywhere. They could come to him.
Willful Junior Mourning Dove would wait them out in the basement.
After dinner, I checked on Junior once more. He was gone! I looked all around the porch area, under the ferns, and around the orchids. No Junior. He must have given in and flown up onto the roof with his parents. I looked up, and there he was. But, I was shocked!
Willful Junior had flapped, climber and clawed his way back into the nest where he waited.
Then, Mrs. Dove landed on the branch, looked at me, side-stepped over to Junior snuggled in the nest, and practically stuck her eye up against his eye. He bobbed his head up and down for food, but Mrs. Dove never opened her mouth. She turned and flew away. Junior settled back down. A few minutes later Mr. Dove flew onto the branch and pigeon-toed his way up to Junior who bobbed his head until I feared it would pop off. I swear he whispered something into Junior’s ear because Junior got very quiet. Then Mr. Dove flew away and joined his wife on the roof where together they continued to call Junior.
As night fell, Willful Junior still sat in the nest, hungry and alone. It had been hours since he had last eaten.
The next morning the nest was empty. Junior was on the roof with his parents. Hunger, cold, fear of abandonment and the steadfast behavior of parents who would not give into their willful child had won. There was no threatening; no screaming and yelling and no family therapy. The message was clear. Fly or die.
The natural desire to live had won.
Sometimes the path of human nature and behavior goes sideways. It is during times like those that watching our wild families of birds can help put us back on the straight and narrow because we all share the same life-goal; to raise independent, self-sufficient off-spring that will continue to thrive after we die. Do you know families whose grown children are clinging to the family nest and demanding to be fed and cared for as though they were still growing chicks? Or, do those adult children keep returning to the nest after sampling adult life and deciding it is not as much fun as home, like Junior?
Send them this article. Parenting really is for the birds.
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