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PAPER WORK: Memories of Mom feather the nest

Lonny Cain
Lonny Cain

The new bird house was up.

I was hoping my timing was OK.

But in less than a day the house became a home.

A sparrow.

Didn’t matter to me. I was happy to see the homemade shelter serve its purpose.

Lucky sparrow, I’m thinking. Four brightly colored walls and a fancy, sloping roof.

That’s what I’m seeing. Something to admire and compliment, crafted by my uncle. A work of art.

I imagine lady sparrow, however, just sees a convenient hole on a pole.

I simply gave her an opportunity to do what she does every year. A perfect spot to build a nest.

I’ve been watching as she brings one twig or scrap of nature at a time.

She returns to the handy perch at her door. Her head twitches in all directions. Constantly watching and listening before finally popping into the hole.

Always defensive, I think. In fact, the whole process is about building a fort.

This will be for her family. She will do this like she always has.

One thread at a time, she will weave a nest inside that hole.

In fact, I suspect the sturdy walls will not encourage her to ease up on the methods.

I assume she will construct until the cluster inside is tight, strong, warm … and secure.

Her time — her every day —  is focused. Until it’s done. If it’s ever really done.

She probably will put more time into that nest than the hours it took my uncle to make the perfect shelter.

The last time I watched, she was perched with a bird feather in her beak.

Each contribution has a purpose. All part of a specific mission.

She was adding a touch of softness and cushion and warmth to the bedding.

I guess birds do that. Based on my brief and quick research online.

They are amazing engineers. With a mission.

Bird nests vary as much as the species varies. But all are designed to serve a single purpose.

They protect the young. The children, who are often left alone while Mom is busy “working.”

That means providing. Searching for food, which seems like a constant chore.

So they want the nests warm and sturdy but also hidden and safe.

They build with beaks and talons. They understand the materials they need must be pliant, elastic but also durable.

They tuck and pull and weave, but also mix plant fibers with mud to seal the bond.

Mud can be a major factor.

We also have swallows nearby. Their nests are mud-packed and tucked under bridges, away from rain and danger.

There is this overriding need to protect. Such a big part of that mission.

I’m reminded of the killdeer, a bird often seen along country roads.

They build nests on the ground, of all places. Seems a bit crazy, but it’s what they do.

A notable feature of this beautiful bird is its piercing cry as you get near its nest.

You will see it running across the field — not flying.

The mother wants to pull your attention away from her nest, her babies. 

In fact, it’s like she is saying, “Here. Here I am. Take me.”

Killdeers will pretend to have a broken wing, to lure predators toward her.

That’s what mothers do. They protect their home.

After they work day in and day out, year after year, to build that nest.

As best they can. With what they have or find.

In all nature there is this instinct, yes? Build and protect.

Birds. All animals. And people do this.

We all start in some kind of nest.

Ignorant of what is around. The stuff that waits and hunts and hurts.

We all start to learn in the nest.

As best we can before it doesn’t fit our size and natural desire to explore.

And we all leave the nest.

Have to … have to grow into a new world, learn to fly, care for ourselves.

Eventually we build another nest. Our own nest.

So, yeah, this week I've been thinking about nests.

It's spring. My new bird house. And Mother’s Day.

I have found bird nests on the ground. I know it took something violent to put them there.

I’ve held them. Empty and tossed away. But I still admired the density, strength and ingenuity of the tangle.

Try to pull a nest apart and you will soon understand the core mission. The hours, the lifetime, that was used up making it strong.

All for the children. For the family.

I know that male birds do build nests. But often it's the mother.

Sorry if that sounds a bit sexist. But that’s what mothers do. They build nests.

All this week, watching my busy bird house, thinking about my Mom, I keep hearing that thought over and over.

That’s what moms do. That's what my mom did.

They build nests.

LONNY CAIN, of Ottawa, is the former managing editor of The Times, now retired. Please email thoughts, comments or ideas to or mail care of The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.

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