Mother Bird Finds an Unlikely Nesting Spot … in a Hiking Boot

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A Washington couple unknowingly created a home for a new bird family after leaving a pair of Vasque hiking boots on their porch.

In the last several months, life as people know it has changed: Those who are able to are working from home. Protective masks cover friendly smiles. People have swapped hugs for 6 feet of space. And phrases like “self-quarantine” and “social distancing” have become everyday vernacular.

But like the spring flowers blossoming outside, some things have continued as they always have—a lesson that an opportunistic bird recently taught REI Co-op member Kelly Wasenmiller, 44.

Four weeks ago, 41-year-old Henry Wasenmiller, Kelly’s husband, received a pair of Vasque hiking boots he ordered from REI. As he slid them onto his feet in the living room, eager to test the fit, Kelly shooed him onto the front porch.

“I’m like, ‘You can’t bring those in here,’” she said, asking him to try them on outside.

Henry obliged and took his new shoes outside for a fit test before deciding he’d exchange them for a low-cut style. He waited two days, then went to the porch to retrieve the kicks and send them back for a different pair. That’s when he spied a few twigs poking out from one of them.

He called his wife to join him outside, and they took a closer look together. Inside the boot, the two spied a small nest with three tiny eggs.

“We set them out there and didn’t know what was going to happen, and she’s like, ‘Well, while you guys are figuring this out, I’m going to build a house here,’” Kelly said. The couple decided not to return the boots.

Since the Wasenmillers discovered the nest nearly three weeks ago, Kelly’s daily routine includes checking on the eggs (there are now five of them) and looking for the mother bird (a few sightings to date). Sometimes, the bird flies away flustered, but most of the time, she sits unbothered on her unhatched eggs in the hiking boot.

Kelly finds humorous parallels between the bird and her family’s situation—namely, that they’re also in the process of making a home. They’re temporarily renting the house they’re in amid a renovation of their farmhouse in Woodinville, Washington. With construction delays due to the pandemic, it’ll be several months more before the project is complete. It’s not lost on Kelly that her newest resident constructed her tiny home faster.

“She’s doing all the things in a nanosecond, and I can barely get ahead,” Kelly said.

The bird also has good taste in nesting spots, Kelly added. The Vasque boot fits human wearers above the ankle for added support when hiking, but when used by birds as a place to nest, Kelly thinks the tall collar makes it easy to hide from potential predators. Even better, the boots’ GORE-TEX waterproofing—and the porch’s awning—protect the eggs from rain.

Brian Hall, director of product development at Vasque, said his team was sad to learn the boots didn’t work for Henry, but they delighted in hearing the shoes were a “perfect fit for momma bird.”

“We applaud the bird doulas for graciously giving up their new boots for the fledgling family and are looking forward to getting an update when the chicks hatch,” he said in an email.

REI reimbursed Henry for the boots after learning of the story, which has become popular among friends, family and even strangers, some of whom have shared a Facebook post Kelly wrote when she first found the mother bird. (In the post, she refers to herself as a “bird doula.”)

Kelly said they plan to use that money to purchase a Nest Cam to keep tabs—and share updates—on the fledgling birds once they hatch. They’ll likely have to leave the rental before the baby birds grow strong enough to leave the nest (their lease ends in mid-May), but she plans to watch them from afar using the camera.

Once renovations wrap up, Kelly is considering placing a boot on their farmhouse porch, hopeful that a new bird family will nest there. Some of her friends have—with varying degrees of seriousness—thought about doing the same.

Beyond a source of entertainment, the bird family has offered a sense of much-desired normalcy. Kelly says it proves that even in difficult times, life continues.

“It’s just funny. With all of us in the situation we’re in right now, where life is not normal and nothing seems to be happening the way we want it to, life outside of us … is still going on,” she said. “It makes you realize how small we really are.”

Update: After this story published, Kelly said she continued to check in on the fledgling birds. Though she was unable to install a Nest cam to watch them, she checked on the birds in person every other day. Each fledgling survived and eventually flew away from the nest.