Finch fortitude

On Monday afternoon I came home to check the nest on my front door wreath, expecting that finch fledglings had flown. They are the earliest brood I’ve ever known: four tiny blue eggs laid during the last week of February and hatching by the second week of March; I discovered a pile of fuzzy gray, mohawked nestlings after a snowfall.

By Monday, as the temperatures finally warmed, I hadn’t heard their happy chatter at my door in a day or so. I assumed the babies had left home; it was just over two weeks after hatching, which is normal.

But that afternoon I found two perfectly beautiful fledglings dead in the nest.

First time this has happened in all the years of house finches adopting my porch as their sanctuary. No real clue as to why. Inexperienced parents? Doubtful, as nesting in my wreath is an established pattern and the finches are quite prolific. Disease? Maybe; but where were the other two babies? Sustained freezing temperatures? Possible. Survival of the fittest? Probable.

No sign of the parents. Had something happened to them? Had they abandoned these little ones? If so, why?

I stood before the nest, icy shock quickly melting into grief.

It had to be dealt with…

Armed with paper towels and cloths, I extricated the tiny lifeless babies. I carried them to the edge of the woods out back and covered them, together, in a deep bed of dry leaves. I couldn’t just throw them away; they had been living things. They had been growing. I couldn’t bury them; birds don’t bury their dead and furthermore, they’re creatures of the air.

They never got to fly.

I bid the babies goodbye and told them I was sorry that this was the best I knew to do for them, to let nature reabsorb them.

Then, the nest.

Finches sometimes reuse them.

If I were a mother bird, however, I wouldn’t want to reuse a nest where two of my precious babies had died.

I decided the nest—every one a unique masterpiece, this one threaded with tiny dried flowers and padded with white hair from some mammal—had to go. In case there were mites or germs or traces of decay…

It should be burned, I thought, as I pulled it away from the wreath.

Instead I wrapped it, bagged it, and threw it in the trash.

I almost threw the whole wreath in the trash, too, but just as I took it down, I remembered how, all winter long, two little birds slept in this wreath together at night, keeping each other warm, sometimes startling me by flying out when I opened the door.

No doubt it was the finch parents, staking their claim until nesting season.

I couldn’t throw the wreath away.

I guess…I know… well, just hoping…

I shook out the wreath and hung it back up.

Monday evening, I was forlorn. I read everything I could find online about bird babies dying in nests. I read that bird parents grieve for their lost ones. I peeked out of the front blinds; I am sure I saw a little shadowy figure on the porch railing, just as it saw me and darted away, without a sound.

I didn’t sleep well.

Tuesday morning, as I got dressed for work, the silence was depressing. This is the time I’d hear them most, the parents with their song-chatter, the chorusing baby voices…

So I went outside with my Merlin Bird Sound ID app. It picked up robins, a mockingbird, a Carolina wren, a chipping sparrow, a mourning dove…no house finches.

I drove to work heavy-hearted, knowing that there are countless other birds for the savoring and that in the human world incomparable horrors are steadily unfolding…yet that’s why the finches matter. One bit of joy that softens the edges of the blade. A little song of light against a devouring darkness. A tiny comfort on the wing, a fleeting moment of transcendence…

Tuesday afternoon I came home and checked the wreath.

I don’t know what I expected. I don’t even know if this is wise or healthy (when is a thing officially an obsession?).

It didn’t look any different. I thought I saw one shred of green grass hung in the grapevine where the nest used to be…probably a remnant.

I tried Merlin Bird Sound ID again. —Crows! You are SO. LOUD. Chickadee, cardinal, dark-eyed junco…blue-gray gnatcatcher? Chipping sparrow, osprey. —Osprey! Several of them, impossibly high overhead, calling in their wild, echoing sea-song bursts.

But even in my awe…no finches.

As I turned to leave the driveway a bird sailed right past my head to land in the crape myrtle.

I couldn’t believe it: Papa Finch! Speckled brown, gorgeous red head…I’d know him anywhere.

Then another swoop over the fence to the backyard, not so far from where I laid the babies to rest…is that Mama Finch? Am I making this up? The power of suggestion, or wishful thinking? Writer’s imagination?

I came back into the house to watch a while through the beveled glass of the front door… clandestine operations…

It wasn’t long before he appeared on the garage roof top.

Papa Finch.

With something trailing from his beak.

‘THEY ARE REBUILDING!” I cried aloud to no one, before I remembered to be clandestine.

Sure enough, Mama Finch soon joined him… appears they have a personal stash of building materials on top of my garage, for they took turns swooping to the front door.

Making a new nest, in a big hurry.

If you have time, watch the short video; it is the first footage I’ve ever obtained of the house finch parents. I’ve never even been able to get a photo. But here’s Papa holding wisps of nesting material while Mama sets hers in place; she returns, and he goes to add his layer.

In the exact same spot as the nest I removed the day before, with the lost babies.

This is what they accomplished in one afternoon:

Look at those soft white pieces procured by Papa.

They’re not done, of course, but are working feverishly in tandem; I suspect Mama is ready to lay more eggs…

If I know my finches, they’ll start hatching right around Easter.

And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new —Revelation 21:5.

For the first time, I rejoice at tearing the old nest down. I marvel at the fortitude of these little birds, prevailing today over yesterday’s loss, pressing on with urgency. They have a contribution to make to the world. This is not the first time, nor surely the last, that I am awed by the resilience and regenerative power of nature. It’s all doing exactly what it is meant to do…with hope and healing for the taking.

Courage, dear hearts.


with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge

and you finch-fan followers out there

for all your words of love

23 thoughts on “Finch fortitude

  1. Fran, what a post of hope. Your title says it all – – fortitude. Strength. Resilience.


    It hurts my heart to see the finch parents, knowing they are grieving the loss of their littles. But they are wasting no time in moving on with life, as birds must do. As we all must do.
    I’m glad you thought about the germs or parasites in the old nest. I, too, would have trouble throwing away the wreath. That’s home. That’s where they belong. I’m so glad you showed us this, and the video is fabulous. I love seeing the rebuilding.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I was afraid I was meddling with nature by throwing the old nest away – this is partly why I was so elated when they began rebuilding in the same spot. Perhaps I actually helped them overcome… At any rate, this new nest on Day 3 is so beautiful it gives me a pain in my heart – fully lined with thick white fluff, like a receiving blanket waiting to shelter the eggs about to come. I expect one any morning now!


  2. Your finch poem stayed with me yesterday, and I was happy to see the title of today’s post. I think these pieces of writing could become something bigger than two slices of life. I hope they find a published place in the world where people celebrate resilience and survival.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for these amazingly encouraging words, Melanie. I would love to think of the finch stories going out in the world to encourage people. The nest is so lovely now, on Day 3- completely lined with thick white fluff, like a receiving blanket waiting to shelter new life, so tenderly.


  3. I was fully enveloped in this slice, walking through the grief, the hope & disappointment, and finally the awe that nature does, indeed, show us the way back out. The resilience and persistence is enviable. Thank you so much for this gorgeous piece of writing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Amy, for these lovely words! The nest continues to take shape – lined with so much more white fluff that my heart nearly melts. They are preparing so tenderly for new life.


  4. Well, this is an Easter moment, if ever. I loved reading this, and here’s hoping you get an Easter surprise in a good way. There is so much hope and resilience in this post…and I learned a lot. I never really thought about birds not burying their dead, but of course, they’re creatures of the sky. I loved this early line of fs: finch fledglings had flown

    Liked by 2 people

    • Them building continues on Day 3 – the nest it has taken on a lovely cup shape and is lined with much more soft white fluff. So amazing to me. I expect the first new egg will appear soon, to hatch 14 days later. There’s much precision with these birds! Thank you for these uplifting words.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. God bless those finches that bring joy and hope to your little place in the world and now, through your writing, fill me with hope renewed. Go Finches! We are all cheering you on!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Oh joy, they’re back, that IS fortitude and resilience and the general busyness of getting on with bird life! It’s like double the warmth after all that heartache. Such a wonderful comeback slice. The video first just tops everything off!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I was elated to get that video, Celia, and more so that they immediately went about rebuilding. All I’ve read about house finches say that while males may carry nesting materials, only the female build the nest. I am telling the world – this male is actually helping to build!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Fran, so beautiful! I love the timing–writer’s imagination? power of suggestion? Perfect! Happy Easter little finches! I love this line so very much: “It’s all doing exactly what it is meant to do…with hope and healing for the taking.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Denise, the nest-building continues on Day 3, and you should see how much more soft white fluff is lining it now! It is amazingly precious to me, how the finches do this. I would not be surprised if the first egg shows on Sunday and hatches on Easter. We shall see!


  8. Oh my goodness. I want to write something where I find all the wonderful lines and tell you about your beautiful writing, but I am overwhelmed by the sadness and the beauty of it all. The poor babies. And no sounds of finches – I was nearly in tears. And then, the video! the nest! Oh Fran, thank you for sharing this. I think I needed this story more than I knew.

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s