A fledgling in the front yard

An urban nature photo essay

A small family drama has been playing out in our front yard that has completely entranced our household, as well as our landlady, her husband and teenage daughter, and a handful of workers who came to install what looked like a baseboard in their apartment.

Last Friday I opened my door to run a couple errands (pick up wine) before meeting some friends—and there on the ground was a little fluffball, blocking my way to the steps up to the sidewalk. She skuttled out of the way, looking 100 percent pathetic. So this was the source of the incessant chirping I had heard sometime beginning that morning. A little baby bird had fallen from her nest! I could hear what sounded like her siblings up somewhere near the roof, four stories up. Oh dear, oh dear—was she in distress?

I fret, and pace, wondering what to do. Fortunately, Audubon has a very helpful guide on what to do if you come across a baby bird. It helped me determine that this was a fledgling not a nestling and therefore should not be touched!! I was still worried about the poor thing, so I fetched a jar lid filled with water and a handful of bird seed. While I was in the house, E saw another bird flutter down with a scrap of greenery in its mouth to feed to the fledgling.

A subsequent search confirmed that this was a fledgling house sparrow and that dad (a breeding male) was doing most of the feeding, although we’ve spotted what looks like a female nearby as well!

We came home Friday night to find the little dear huddled near the apartment wall, under the window box. We worried it would be eaten by a cat or even a rat, but so far, so good.

The next day, we get a text from our landlady saying she moved some of the plant containers I have in front around to give the fledgling more options to shelter. But our fledgling isn’t the brightest bird and that night is still huddled against the wall, almost entirely out in the open.

Hardly an hour has gone by this week, working in the living room that looks out over the front yard, that I haven’t leaned over the windowsill to see if I can spy our little fledgling. Not a few days ago the little gal (her coloring looks more like that of female sparrows) struggled to hop a short ledge, wings flapping fruitlessly. Now she’s hopping and flapping with ease. She looks less fluffy and more bird-like every day. Our landlady added a stick to her little front yard ecosystem—did I mention it is 100% pavement, except for my flower/plant containers—which has become her new perch, and where she sleeps at night, protected and off the ground. Not to personify this little sparrow to much, but I feel her confidence growing.

(No, we have not named her—I’ve been instructed to not get too attached, in case disaster strikes.)

She can now fly (or rather, hop-fly) from the branch down to the ledge that she struggled to attain just a few days ago. I also saw her reach the ledge starting from the ground on her first try. Just this afternoon, when I pulled out my camera to try to get a decent photo of her, I saw the male feed her at the foot of the steps, and then watched as she tried to follow him up the steps.

I’m sure by the next time I write she’ll have flown off to be on her own.

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I had so much fun reporting on the little-known phenomenon of “lake bagging,” which dates back to the 1950s (at least) when two men “bagged” every tarn—or small mountain lake—in England’s Lake District, 463 in all (Jessica McKenzie for National Geographic). I still have yet to visit Little Island, but I read this scathing critique with interest; contrasting the hyper-palatable and capital-friendly space with the neglect and/or overpolicing of other New York City parks is an important piece of the conversation (Michael Friedrich for The Baffler). I certainly find the author’s current argument more compelling than I remember finding his critique of the High Line, but: I think railing against green spaces as a primary or even significant driver of gentrification is…misplaced, especially when the value of green spaces on mental and physical health cannot be overstated. You will certainly never hear me complaining about “yet another green space” in the city—and withholding new green spaces from poorer neighborhoods or gentrifying neighborhoods out of fear of accelerating gentrification deprives the current residents of the benefits associated with those spaces. We need more renter protection, not fewer parks. These pockets of green space also benefit urban and migratory wildlife—especially if they’ve been planted with native flora, which unfortunately seems to be a greater priority at big bankrolled parks like the High Line than at underfunded city parks (Michael Friedrich for The Washington Post). After a recent, rather jumbled newsletter in which I took aim at both buyer’s guides and the gear-to-military pipeline, it was refreshing to see the latest Outside Magazine Buyer’s Guide clarify that their goal “isn’t to convince you to buy new gear, but to help you find what you truly need” (Ariella Gintzler for Outside). Even better, Sierra published an “anti-buyer’s guide” to gear: how to borrow, repair, and minimize (Megan Hill for Sierra).

Parting shot: