The bluebird stood in the tree, a green worm in his mouth, but he had nowhere to go with it. There was no nest.
Instinct told him he had little ones to care for; so, on autopilot, he collected the worm. He held the squirming green body for long moments, hopping along the branch, looking down toward where the nest was just yesterday. Nothing.
He finally ate it himself.
The evening before, I’d looked out my window to see what my bluebirds were up to—like I did about 100 times most days. I had never been a birder before, and probably drove my Facebook friends crazy with my requests to identify new birds I spotted around my home in the woods of rural Virginia.
“Newbies,” they’d scoff to themselves. “So annoying.”
But I’d become attached to the birds who lived in my backyard, as I became attached to all the wild animals who made their homes in the woods nearby.
I believed in their right to life, their value as members of our planet, their unique beauty, and what they could teach me about finding contentment in the moment.
I treasured them all. The phoebes who built a nest on our drain spout and were on their second batch of the summer. The bluebirds who moved into first one house and then another after successfully rearing brood #1.
So I watched them and waited, hoping to catch a glimpse of the babies leaving the nest, the parents feeding. I knew this batch was still young, not yet ready to go, but I remained fascinated and watched as only a birdie-voyeur is capable of doing.
Confusion assaulted me. Why wasn’t my birdhouse where it belonged? What was going on?
I didn’t see it happen, but I knew it was the only explanation that made sense.
I can still envision the moment; the ease with which he reached up, cupped the small wooden house, and batted the nest to the ground, smashing the top and emptying the cubby of its fledglings.
I rushed outside, sobbing, “No, my babies!” but knew there was no hope.
I desperately tried to figure out how I could fix it. How could I put it back together, bring the babies back? Was the mom dead too?
I didn’t know.
The anger and pain rushed my senses. I screamed “Fuck you, Bear, Fuck YOU!” and then fearfully eyed the bushes as the gloom of dusk eased into darkness.
I may have been enraged, but I wasn’t suicidal. If I actually attracted the bear with my verbal onslaught, I knew who would end up on the losing end of that battle.
Sobbing, I fumbled my way back inside.
I reached out to online friends for support in my grief, loss, and anger at the bear, and inevitably got that one person who feels compelled to say something incredibly insensitive like: “That’s just nature being nature.”
On what planet do people believe that’s helpful?
As a reasonably intelligent woman, I can well understand in theory that nature isn’t pretty, and that animals eat each other every single day.
But knowing that will never stop me from wanting to protect those I consider ‘family’, and grieving if something happens to these tiny beings.
The next morning, feeling empathy for my sadness, my husband climbed to the first bluebird house and cleaned the old nest out. We added more safety netting to the bottom of the tree, and removed a couple saplings that were too close to the old nest for comfort.
Then I waited to see if the parents had made it out alive.
I saw the male.
He was perched at the bend of the destroyed pole, peering about for his lost family. Where had they gone? I watched as he flew from there to the old house, checking inside just in case, and then to a third house that had remained uninhabited.
I was helpless to fix either of our broken hearts.
He repeated his treks from the old house to the tree limb and back multiple times, and I hated watching his compulsive behavior, suffering my own grief for the loss of his family.
I’d all but given up hope that his mate had made it out alive; I should have seen her by now. What would the male do under these circumstances? I had no idea.
But then, it happened. Something glorious.
His mate flew up and joined him on the porch of the old nest.
She’d made it!
She made it.
More tears, but now happy ones. The bad was still there—the babies were still gone—but now there was hope for tomorrow for this gorgeous couple.
Maybe they would try again in the old house; maybe they will be back next year.
The world suddenly held room for maybes and possibilities again.
It will always be hard for me to witness “nature being nature.” I am blessed (or cursed, depending on your perspective) with a heart for the animals, and I feel each loss so very deeply.
Please, do those like me a favor. Next time we share our grief and loss over an animal we care about, don’t tell us it’s just “nature being nature.”
We know that, already, thank you.
But we love anyway.
P.S. Yes, I felt sad for the worm, too.
Tamira Thayne is the founder of Who Chains You Books and Spiritual Mentoring, and the pioneer of the anti-chaining movement in America. She spent 13 years on the front lines of chained-dog activism and rescue as founder and CEO of Dogs Deserve Better. She is the author of The Wrath of Dog, Foster Doggie Insanity: Tips and Tales to Keep your Kool as a Doggie Foster Parent, and Capitol in Chains: 54 Days of the Doghouse Blues.