An ‘Apapane and nestlings, courtesy National Park Service
If you were very lucky, and found the right tree, and if you stood in the right place where the branches weren’t too think, and if you looked at the right place, you might see the ‘Apapane nest high in an ohi’a tree.
There were three chicks in the nest, about 2 weeks old, they were hungry all the time, and they had grown feathers – so they were starting to think about flying.
Birds grow up faster than people.
One of them, who might have been the oldest but they all hatched at the same time so who knows?, was sure that he was ready to fly. So when his mother had flown off to get some food – did I mention that they were hungry pretty much all the time? – he hopped up on the side of the nest, spread his wings, and launched himself into the air.
Well, I’m afraid he didn’t get far. Those new feathers weren’t quite grown out, or his wing muscles weren’t quite strong enough, or some combination of the two, and he was lucky to find himself grasping a branch not far below with his wings all a-flutter and his heart racing.
And that was before his mother got back and hounded him along the branch he’d landed on to the tree trunk and then some hopping and frantic fluttering to bring him back to the nest at the top of the tree.
Quite aside from all the air she blew at him with her wings, she gave him The Look.
You know The Look, right? It’s the one your mother gives you when she’s Just Had Enough?
I know The Look.
And likewise this little bird got to know The Look.
Two days later, though, all their wings were stronger and now the mother thought they were ready to fly – did I mention that birds grow up faster than people? So the mother nudged them onto the edge of the nest one by one. Our proud chick went first, and sure enough, his wings were ready and he flew off. But I’m afraid he still had more pride than wing strength, so when he tried to fly farther than the next tree he found himself on the ground a little ways past it. It took some time before he was rested enough to come back to his home tree.
The second chick, I’m afraid, let his fears get the best of him. He’d watched his brother do badly, of course, but even without that, he wouldn’t believe he could do it. His mother nudged him up on the edge of the nest, and there he stayed, even when his mother gave him The Look.
You now The Look, right?
I know The Look.
And this little bird got to know The Look.
When he still wouldn’t take off, his mother finally resorted to pushing him right off the nest. He frantically sawed the air with his wings, and to his surprise, found himself flying right over to the next tree, where he perched with his heart pounding and his mind soaring.
Then came the last one. He stepped up, and looked at his mother, who nodded. He spread his wings, and looked at them carefully, to see all the feathers were in place. He thought they were, but he looked at his mother, and she nodded again. He flapped his wings a couple of times, just to feel how the air pressed against them, and one last time, looked at his mother. She nodded once again.
So he stepped off into space, let his wings descend and rise again…
And he flew.