As The Nest Turns

Watch live streaming video from cornellherons at

If you’ve followed my blog for very long, you know that I’m a bird watcher—in fact on Twitter, I’m part of a small group of writers who alerts one another about our bird watching activities—we call ourselves the bird nerds.

And this week, as a bird nerd, I found a new distraction: nestcams!

This is extreme bird watching up close and personal, courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Three sets of birds—Great Blue Herons, Eastern Blue Birds, and Red-tailed Hawks, tend nests of tiny baby birds while closely watched by hundreds, probably thousands, at any given moment.

And let me tell you… this is high drama in the bird world, as high as it gets—as I wonder and worry along with everyone else: will all five chicks survive in the heron nest? (the fifth chick is a little small and runty looking—we’re rooting for you #5!). Will Mama Red-tail Hawk ever stop demanding her chicks eat one more squirrel entrail despite their obvious soporific lethargy? Will the blue bird eggs ever hatch? Tune in tomorrow…I’m telling you, this stuff is addictive!

You may think this post is about bird watching—okay, it is—but not just about bird watching. Because as I watch these nestcams, I can’t help but think about my own nest—just a few short years ago I too had a full nest—just like those mama birds on the screen. One-by-one my chicks flew the nest. And now my nest is empty….mostly.

Because here’s the thing—it’s a process, just like almost everything in my life these days. And this mother-in-progress, after all these years, is getting used to change (kind of)—I think it’s a requirement for the job. This month the nest is refilling for a while. My son is taking a class at a nearby hospital (he’s a medical student) so we’re happily seeing him more than usual, and my daughter will be coming home for a few weeks before starting an internship in another city. Then my son’s wonderful girlfriend will be here for a family birthday celebration later in the month—when we’ll go to our favorite sushi restaurant (maybe we’re not that different from the herons afterall…)

Our happy nest will be filled again—for a while—and it will be full of song, too (no this isn’t a metaphor—my kids listen to a lot of music and the house seems pretty quiet without it). And for a while, I’ll be more irregular in my writing while I slip back into my mom-routines of chatting at the kitchen table, cooking bigger meals, walks together on the beach and in the woods—setting my daily writing schedule by more than just my own whim. In short, I’ll be one very happy mama bird, tending my nest.

But then, come the end of May, when each chick flies off, our nest will once again empty. And MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I will settle back into the life of the empty nesters: our schedule rising and falling by the walks with the dog, me returning to a more-regular writing schedule, and—yes—watching the nestcams.

Then just like those mama birds when their baby birds finally fly away—I’ll take a long look in the direction my baby birds flew. And I’ll wistfully remember the lingering evenings at the kitchen table talking to my son, the wonderful cuddles on the couch watching movies with my daughter, and the sweet sweet music filling the air.



Related posts: Check out my friend Christine Grote’s great post: Early ancestors, vegetarians, parenthood, and ambivalence.


  1. CMSmith says:

    I’m envious. Hold on to those precious moments. Lucky you.

    I posted about the bird cams today, also. But with an entirely different take. Ha ha.

    You’ll see.

    Yours is much warmer and fuzzier.

  2. Hope you enjoy your time with the chicks, Julia. My eldest is graduating high school in a few weeks, and I am finding myself spending even more time on those dinner-table conversations, soaking up all of the time with him I can before September.

    • I’m glad you have this time at the dinner table with your eldest — precious times! Love those times! Soak it all up and then join “as the nest turns” with me!

  3. E.J. Wesley says:

    The nest cams sound amazing! Definitely going to check them out. I think you’re right on with the idea of birds in the nest growing and leaving, and how it relates to the human family. In many ways, it really is just a more concise version of what we do.

    The beautiful thing for us is that you’ll be able to watch your children build their own nests, and if grandbabies come along, you’ll be just as invested (in a different way) in their development as you were your own.

    I’ve always heard being a parent is the greatest thing, but I truly think being a grandparent is probably the greatest. Parents are so busy being parents it’s often hard to love it for what it is. Grandparents usually don’t have that problem. They just get to love. You know?

    I’ve seen lots of people not change (for better and worse) when they become parents. I’ve never seen a grandparent not change the minute the grandchildren hit the world. It’s like some kind of personality re-do or something. My dad is a firm man. Not hard, just ‘firm’. When granddaughter #1 hit it was like I didn’t know him! In a great way.

    • I hope you enjoyed the nestcams, E.J.!! Yes, a much more concise version, but so easy to relate to my life! It is a beautiful thing to watch my kids build their nests — as for grandbabies… that’s a ways in the future as far as I can tell, but it will be lovely no question! (But if I become any less hard I will be the biggest pushover grandmother in the history of the world 🙂

  4. Beautiful post, Julia. You make me yearn for mid-June when I get to travel to New Mexico to visit my daughter and help celebrate my grandson’s 4th birthday.

    I’ll have to check out that nestcam after I get settled in at home from my writing retreat travels. Right now I’ve got bunnycam going on here at the house. Five adorable bunnies were born in a nest right up against our house and Brian took some photos. The photos will be the extent of our “cam” but we can walk outside any time and see them in person so I’ll be drinking in their cuteness at intervals throughout the day.

    • That sounds like a marvelous trip you’ll be making in June!! 4th birthdays are the best (of course so are every other childhood birthday, too! 🙂 The bunnycam live and in person sounds amazing! Reminds me of when I was in college and a friend and I were at a flea market where a chipmunk kept darting around grabbing pieces of food, and one of the people at a sales table said: “it’s better than TV!!” Real nature in person!! The BEST cam!

  5. So beautiful, Julia! I can only imagine the adjustments you must go through each time the kids fly away and then return. And, yes, I’m with you: those bird cams ARE addictive. I got caught up in the hawk cam last year – and thanks to your reminder, again this year! So lovely!

    • Yes, definitely an adjustment — but I’ll figure it out, just like all the other things in progress in my life 🙂 Now that you mention that you watched last year, I seem to remember you mentioning it! It really is amazing to get a chance to see it up so close!

  6. Becca says:

    I have a family of robins every year in a nest outside my garage. I watch that mother hovering around those babies until she finally kicks them out of the nest. And yes, I’m touched by that process every time, because it so clearly mirrors the things we human mothers go through as well.

    At least our babies do return on occasion! Probably not true for the birds…sad.

    • You’re so right, Becca, we do get those return visits unlike the birds (whew, thank goodness they visit, right?). I’ve loved having nests to watch in person, like your robin nest, but often I end up feeling such responsiblity for the little birds, I do worry about them! I love how you say the mom finally “kicks them out” of the nest… they do get them to fly, don’t they!? 🙂

  7. Emma Pass says:

    Nest cam – how wonderful! I could get addicted to something like that. I hope you have a lovely time with your family, Julia.

  8. Randy and I became addicted to a Bald Eagle nestcam last spring. It is such an amazing experience, and you can truly see the innate desire the parents have to tend their young. I think if we watched that nestcam again, we would watch it with a whole new perspective! Especially since this past weekend — during Adelaide’s abnormally fussy phase — we were both hovered over her, trying to make it “better.”

    • The eagle cam sounds amazing! It is true that you watch differently depending on what parenting phase you’re in (or if it’s easier to relate to the chicks and having the parents always hovering, I suppose!)… sorry to hear Adelaide was fussy last weekend — it can be such a puzzle, can’t it? And so hard to hear our babies not be comfortable…

  9. I’ve been seeing you guys talk about this on Twitter. The nest cam is awesome but I think you guys could have a reality show about bird-obsessed writers. We’ve been watching a bird’s nest on our deck that is attempting to survive our cat. It’s quite dramatic as well. It seems to me there is ZERO possibility of the cat being able to reach the nest but nature is always surprising!

    • You can always make me laugh, Sara!! I LOVE the idea of a reality show about bird-obsessed writers, HILARIOUS, Sara. Too funny! Have you seen the movie THE BIG YEAR? Not writers but it’s about bird obsessed people. Pretty funny, though. Eek, the cat reaching the bird nest… I would feel such obligation to protect. Darn, there’s that mother bird instinct again 🙂

    • Erika Marks says:

      Sara and Julia–I think the brilliant Christopher Guest needs to tackle birders as the subject of his next mockumentary, what do you think?

    • Yes, mockumentary is perfect or perhaps: The Amazing Big Year starring the Writing-Tweeting #birdnerds –you’ve seen them on Twitter now watch them find new bird species in your own backyard! haha.

  10. Erika Marks says:

    Yay! Some precious time feathering that nest again, my Momma-Bird friend. I can hear in your words your absolute joy at having your family home again–I’m so happy for you all. Here we always joke that our bird feeder is our cable (since we don’t have TV) so I guess birdcams really takes that to heart! 😉

    • I love the idea of the bird feeder being your cable! It really is not just more entertaining but also more relaxing to watch than TV. And yes, absolute joy is just exactly how I’d describe it, my friend! 🙂

  11. I love those bird-cams – they’re great for getting up close and are fascinating. I confess, your post did make me blub a little. I’d had a strange sense of inpermanence on my hound walk earlier, an awareness of how time had flown brought about by a random memory of my children as toddlers playing in the paddling pool. They’re now 10 and 13 and already those times have passed. So I can relate, although not completely, to that empty nest feeling. Although mine is not yet empty, I know that the time it will be will come around too quickly. Treasure every second, I think is the answer to that one isn’t it? A lovely post Julia!

    • Time really is so tricky–while things are happening it almost seems endless and then when they’re over it seems like a tick of the clock. Yes, life is impermanent and changing, and as writers we think about everything so much that in my case it amplifies every feeling. Glad you enjoyed the post, Abi–and yes, treasure every second.

  12. Lisa Ahn says:

    Julia, I love this post and I am always, always inspired by your sense of balance. I am not good at this. I have two young ones at home, as you know, and I am constantly fumbling the balance between “mom” and “writer”. I’m still searching for the right mix — so, thank you for this wisdom as I stumble along.

    • Lisa, I’m so glad you loved the post… but like you I am fumbling for balance (aren’t we all?). As a mom of young kids, I was most in my element because I loved it so much and everything else took a back seat. And right now I’m at a bit of a stasis–but mostly because I only have to look out for just me!!–but even right now I constantly question how and why I do almost everything. I hope that helps you feel a little better. The truth is that I think I’ll always be a bit of a work in progress, so I’m right there with you searching for wisdom as I stumble along. Glad to inspire and be inspired! xo

  13. Nina B says:

    This was perfect for me today. An exact reminder of what I DON’T want to miss in these early years. There will be more time one day—you’re a great example of that!

    • I’m glad it came at the right time for you, Nina — I thought of that while I was reading your blog this morning. Yes, there will be PLENTY of time one day… and then no matter what, if you’re anything like me, you’ll still feel like you missed out on something when they were young.

  14. Aww, the baby herons are so sweet.

    It’s great when the kids come home, isn’t it? I know how much you enjoy having them come back to visit.

    Every now and then when we are all together I try to just stop whatever I’m doing and just look at my family, and listen, and breathe, and mark it in my memory. Then when they’re not here I can remember how joyful it is to have the house full of them and their friends and special loved ones. Enjoy!!

    • Yes, incredibly wonderful to have them home — especially when we all are here at once!! Just as you say, during those moments, I try to stop and jsut look and listen and breathe to marke it in my memory…. a beautiful way to say it, Cynthia!

  15. I”m not a bird watcher, but those nest cams do sound fascinating. Have a great time with your kids!

    • If you’re not a bird watcher, do yourself a favor and don’t check out the nests!! You may get sucked in and have trouble getting anything else done 😉

  16. Lucky you for having the nestlings return for awhile! Enjoy the time together.

  17. I am turning into a bird nerd. I sit outside with my laptop and it just happens that I’m by one of the bird feeders. I love it when they come and eat. Taking furtive glances my way. Good luck with the babies.

    • YAY!! Another bird nerd! Check out the #birdnerds hashtag next time you’re on Twitter! I can see our birdfeeder from my window near where I work — sitting outside and writing sounds so much nicer (lucky you!!), but our temps are still in the 50s, and then there’s the rain…

  18. Ann says:

    I completely understand, Julia! While I’m not a bird person, I remember watching the puppy cam…the one where the mom gave birth to a little and they had a 24/7 camera on the “nest”. LOVED it!

    • Oh my gosh, Ann, I LOVED the puppy cam!!! My family was a little concerned for me when I was misty-eyed saying goodbye to each of the puppies… and I loved Mr. Feet and Mrs. Pajamas — remember them?! Such good memories! I actually got a calendar they produced right after the puppies!

    • Ann says:

      Mr. Feet & Mrs. Pajamas! Of course! They were SO much fun! *sigh*

  19. When I was in fifth grade, our teacher taught us to birdwatch. It was seriously one of my favorite memories of that year.

    I was thinking of that time earlier this week. We have cardinals in our neighborhood (which I did not have growing up as they were not native to the area) and I absolutely adore watching them and listening to their songs. I am going to make a conscious effort to do more birdwatching, which may necessitate buying a pair of binoculars. 🙂

    Speaking of empty nests…my 18-year-old (will be 19 in June) stepson is back at home with us while he gets on his feet. It’s disrupted our household, to be sure, and our grocery bill has sort of shot through the roof. It was just me, my hubby, and our 12-year-old daughter for a long time (my son lived with his mom in Kentucky for awhile). Still, it’s nice to have him around. He’s grown into a fine young man.

    • That’s great that you’re getting more into bird watching — such a fun activity (and definitely worthy of a new pair of binoculars!) And I know just what you mean about the expanding and contracting nest and the grocery bills; there can definitely be some sticker shock there! Thank you so much for your visit to my blog and especially for your comment! And I hope you enjoy your own version of “as the nest turns”! 🙂

  20. Barb Riley says:

    Oh how I love this post! Although I’m not on Twitter discussing baby birds, I have my own circle of writer-birder friends who email each other with updates. 🙂 I was obsessed with the eaglets last year, and so sad when they left the nest. But I felt like a proud mama at the same time. So similar to life’s journey as parents….I love how you tied the two together.

    Also, I’ve been fascinated by Red-tailed hawks for a loooong time, so I’m thrilled you linked to the nest cam for that family. Their nest is definitely located in a more urban area… and I love how they’ve adapted to the city life!

    Enjoy the time with your kids, Julia!

    • I love how dedicated you were to the eaglets! 🙂 It really is so similar, so it makes me feel so happy that you loved how I tied them together! We are having a lovely family time together all flocking to the nest, and I will once again having readjustment problems next month! 🙂 I love the nest cams, too, and am so glad I was alerted to them by emailing birder friends! 🙂

  21. Suzie Ivy says:

    I just want you to know I don’t have a spare minute to add anything to my day and now this. I watched the birds for 15-minutes, argh. I will admit it gave me a peaceful feeling. Simply adorable, thank you 🙂

    • OMG, Suzie, I know exactly what you mean! I too have no time, but the birds are both relaxing and nervewracking as I worry they’ll plunge out of the nest or be plucked up by a passing owl! Glad you enjoyed! 🙂