What did you with the kids?

Summer Solstice. June 21st. “Fledgling: a young bird just fledged.” All right. Let’s go try that again:

“Fledged: having the plumage or feathers necessary for flight.” Or let’s try fledge (which my computer won’t even acknowledge as a word): “to bring up (a young bird) until it is ready to fly.” I would have expected the huge Random House Dictionary to have been a bit more specific.

The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds is more helpful. “Fledgling: A young bird that has recently left the nest; is feathered; and still depends on its parents for food. It is a fledgling from the time it leaves the nest until it is independent of all parental care.”

I sense a bit of a disagreement here.

I prefer the early term as referring to a non-flying kid, still in the nest and being fed by Ma and Pa.

By today Ma-Jay can no longer fit in the nest but stands for remarkably long periods on the edge or beside it. I presume she’s telling the kids what’s new (though I hear nothing) for they seem to be paying attention — between squirms. They are definitely getting the markings of mature jays.

June 23 — Ma-Jay remains on the nest for quite a long time. I suspect she — and the kids — froze when I stepped out onto the deck for better shots. Goslings learn on Day One so why not?

June 24 — I admire a pair of rose-breasted grosbeaks during lunch. Funny, I’d always considered them among the larger birds at the feeder. Now I marvel at how small they are compared to the “baby” jays. These barely fit in the nest now.

Day after day I’ve watched one who seems to be the most advanced, the most adventurous. Now — granted — I can’t tell one from another so have no way of knowing if there is one — or if they simply rotate as they develop. But, for my sake, I decided that “one” needed a name. First to fly? Charles for Lindbergh or Amy for Amelia Earhart? Not wanting to favor one sex, I ultimately settled on Charlie which, these days, can be the name of either.

Only now there are two — so eager to get away from home. I watch them stand, stretch, flap those wings. What more, I wonder, do they need? How much longer? I am also feeling more reassured that they’ve developed feathers enough to make them less enticing (and perhaps too large) to tempt Minor who, tragically, developed a taste for birds at a very early age.

I watched Ma-Jay fly in late this morning. Her arrival didn’t arouse the kids. Had they already had breakfast? Two now stand and flap wildly, the nest too small by far.

Second surprise: she was obviously concentrating her energy on the back of the nest, closest to the house. My unbounded imagination pictures her attentions going exclusively to little 5 who isn’t faring as well but of course I really have no way of knowing what she’s doing — or even if there is a 5 though the thought did occur that the kids are growing so feathered that, if one fell, it might survive Minor’s appetite. (Remember please — I cannot see the nest. I have counted — I have photographed — four little heads but only think I have seen a fifth and that no more than a very few times.)

June 25. The nest appears flat, i.e. empty. Ma-Jay flies in but gets no response so, waiting briefly, departs again.

That scene continues to amuse — and haunt — me. Wouldn’t she know if her babies had taken off? What brought her back?

No doubt though. The nest is empty. I ask the house painters to bring it down. Did I expect something untoward? No way. Just an empty nest, quite a bit bigger than I would have guessed, constructed awkwardly of large sticks.

Kaufman: Young leave nest 17-21 days after hatching. And Stokes: “The young remain in the nest for a comparatively long period and are well grown by the they leave. During the last days of this phase, the young may stand on the edge of the nest and exercise their wings.

“The family group stays together for a long time after the young have fledged, and the young, even when as large as the adults and seemingly able to gather food for themselves, still receive food from the parents. Their begging calls become extremely raucous and can be heard even into September.”

My eyes have certainly been opened. There are few jays at all in the vicinity. I will keep ears equally alert but so far it’s quiet.

Will I always wonder where they went?

Susan Crossett has lived outside Cassadaga for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. “Her Reason for Being” was published in 2008 with “Love in Three Acts” following in 2014. Information on all the Musings, her books and the author may be found at Susancrossett.com. She may also be reached at musingsfromthehill@gmail.com.

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