bluebirds of sadness


Written by Sandra Heska King

PRAY EDITOR "Once a nurse, always a nurse," they say. But now I spend my days with laptop and camera in tow as I look for the extraordinary in the ordinary. I'm a Michigan gal, mom to two, grandmom to two, and wife to one. My husband and I live on 50 acres in the same 150-plus-year-old farmhouse he grew up in. I love this quote by Mary Oliver, "Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it." That's how I want to live. And I'm still learning how to be. Still.

June 4, 2013

house sparrow

I removed the makings of a nest. Several times. But then I got sick, and when I made it back to the box in the side yard, they’d laid their eggs. Cream-colored, speckled brown.

And so I left them. And watched them. Since they were busy here, I reasoned, they’d leave the other box alone. So I took pictures daily after the babies hatched and grew into soft balls of fluff. I even saved them from the kestrel I saw clinging to the box one day.

After all, His eye is on the sparrow, right?


A pair of bluebirds showed up, too. They got married and set up housekeeping in the backyard. Five sweet little blue eggs cupped. And one day when I checked in like any good bluebird landlord, two pink what-my-husband-called-aliens quivered in the nest, soon joined by their siblings. So I took pictures daily and watched them grow bigger by, it seemed, the hour. They started to sprout feathers flashed with blue. And then their eyes opened, and one looked at me that day I lowered the door and hovered my iPhone above them.

But not until I came inside and enlarged the photo did I see the blob of blood on the back of the box, the open sores on the nestlings’ heads. And I was sick because I knew this was the work of a house sparrow–a HOSP. These birds are non-native, introduced from their natural surroundings in England to this strange new land. And they’re fierce bluebird competitors.

When these soft balls of fluff grow up, they can turn into bullies and murderers. They might enter a bluebird house, maim and mutiliate and even kill parents and children. They’ve been known to build a nest upon the dead.

Mama bluebird disappeared, and I watched Papa continue feeding duties. I hung some mylar streamers on the box in order to scare the bad birds away. I even ordered what are called sparrow spookers and hoped they’d come quickly. I put out extra portions of live mealworms to make Papa’s job easier.

bluebird house, sadness

Saturday morning, on day 15 of life, as I headed out for my morning rounds, I was considering a bluebird doctor. Perhaps a call to a rehabilitator, a removal of the nest to save the babies. But as I approached the box, I noted dried grass protruding from the entrance. I feared what I would find.

But what I found was—nothing!

Not. One. Baby.

Dead or alive.

In the box or on the ground. And no sign of struggle. No scratches that would indicate a larger predator. I don’t think they were ready to fledge, but maybe it’s possible Papa thought life outside the box was safer than inside?

Their fate remains a mystery.

I removed the nest and later saw Papa. Alone.

I named him Job.

bluebird, sadness

I wonder. How did all the animals co-exist before the fall? I’ve got so many questions I want to ask when I see God face-to-face. Like how could He allow such destruction and pain on this cracked canvas. Why so much suffering, so much brokenness?

But then I think at that point the old will have passed away and perhaps it won’t matter when we pass through the veil.

This morning I check the bluebird houses again. One remains sadly empty. The other has the makings of a fresh nest, and when I pull it out, I see it nestles a single cream-colored, brown-speckled egg.

But I’m a grief-stricken bluebird grandma.

I sigh, but I don’t hesitate.

I throw the nest to the ground.

And then I stomp on the egg.


  1. Patricia W Hunter

    So sad. It’s hard stuff, isn’t it? Especially for those of us who are paying attention. Falling in love with this circle of life around us. I learn so much from watching creation. How birds persevere in the face of this constant battle for life…and how they keep singing, too.

    • Sandra Heska King

      And still they sing in the midst of battle. So good, my friend. So good.

  2. pastordt

    Wow. I had no idea sparrows were so predatory. Not sure I could have stomped an egg, though. Must be the grandma in you. :>)

    • Sandra Heska King

      It’s not all sparrows, Diana. The history of the English house sparrow is pretty interesting, though. And that link to “murderers” holds some insights toward understanding not only birds and general planet stewardship, but even our own responses to “evil.”

      Yeah, I guess I let the grandma bear loose. So I’ve repented and decided to let them stay for this summer. I’ve tried another sparrow-proof method to the other box, and it looks like Papa Job has found a new mate. (Though, I’d like to believe she’s the original mama who’s been feeding fledged babies out of sight.)

  3. Sheila Seiler Lagrand

    This, right here? It’s your heart on the “page,” Sandra.

    Your beautiful, sweet, heart. Thank you.

  4. Megan Willome

    Boy, oh, boy, honey, I get this. We want to protect the bluebirds. I love that you named the lone survivor Job.

    Your writing here reminds me of Annie Dillard, specifically “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.” She spent so much time observing the horror of nature.

  5. Laura Boggess

    I have picked nest after sparrow nest out of my bluebird box and as soon as I turn my back for a day they lay their eggs. This is the hard stuff of stewarding, isn’t it? So sorry for the empty nest. We will keep trying, won’t we?

    • Sandra Heska King

      Goodness, I wasn’t prepared for this when I went into the bluebird business. 🙂

      Today, I “wired” the bluebird’s house with fishing line…

  6. Lynn Mosher

    Ooo…meany birds! So hard sometimes to watch nature at work. Great post, Snady!

  7. Deidra

    I don’t usually pay much attention to birds. My mother does, though. So, I know a woodpecker from a bluebird from a gold finch. But that’s about it. And I know you like birds, too. So I notice more. Yesterday, at the end of my driveway, a bluejay was pecking incessantly at something on the ground. Later, when I went out to the grocery store, I realized what it was. Sad. And ugly. And I thought about how much God protects us from…dangers seen and unseen…and how I barely even notice it.

    • Sandra Heska King

      Isn’t that the truth? So much hard we see, yet so much we miss. But… we also miss what’s happening behind the scenes… a battle fought in our behalf…

  8. Shelly Miller

    I read this earlier this morning and I’ve thought about it all day. Love the way those birds make you think Sandy. Because their lessons make me think too. I still can’t believe you stomped on that egg.

    • Sandra Heska King

      I can. Believe it. Because I still harbor some dead spaces, and I groan under the weight of the heavy…

  9. Alia_Joy

    Oh, I’m so sad. I’ve been following their lives on your Instagram and my 8 year old daughter was enchanted. Hard truths about the life we live where all creation groans under the weight of brokenness and death. Beautiful write, Sandra.

    • Sandra Heska King

      I know. Who would have thought? A new and enchanting day is coming. Please give your sweet girl a hug from me.

  10. DeanneMoore

    groaning……right along with the creation..

  11. Mia

    Dear Sandra
    I often feel so sorry for animals that suffer because of man! But one, day we are told the lion and the lamb will lie together. No hatred of violence even amongst animals.

    • Sandra Heska King

      Won’t that be a wondrous day, Mia? No hatred or violence amongst any of us.

  12. Positively Alene

    This is life — messiness, brokenness, and heartache. And girl I have many questions for God too when I see Him face to face. Many say I’ll be taken back with His glory and it won’t matter any more, maybe so. But I’m a pretty inquisitive one.

    • Sandra Heska King

      So I just had this vision of a bunch of us just sitting around Him by the river. We’re munching on fresh peach slices, drinking iced tea, and asking these hard questions. He’s answering so patiently and with such love..

  13. Monica Sharman

    Yikes. Bullies stress me out and make my eyes go red.

    But what stood out most is your tenderness. Such tenderness.

    • Sandra Heska King

      This morning, in the tree outside my bedroom window, a papa house sparrow was feeding one of his babies…


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bluebirds of sadness

by Sandra Heska King time to read: 3 min