I love birds! All species, all sizes, in all seasons. I even love blue jays, although not unconditionally. Yes, they are bullies. But they’re beautiful. Turkey vultures are also beautiful at a distance, and they perform clean-up tasks that no one else wants to undertake.
Until the robin came into my life, I could say quite honestly that I’d never met a bird I didn’t like.
I started noticing the robin a few Novembers ago, when all the rest of the robins suddenly had gone South. This one robin stayed around; a loner, apparently. My writing space on the second floor gives me a bird’s eye view of a big gorgeous crabapple tree, and the many species of birds who dine out in its branches. I logged a lot of hours at the computer watching this solitary robin who was hanging out in the tree, gorging on the drying crabapples. The bird was not only a loner, but she had no trouble asserting ownership of the tree, even when challenged occasionally by a huge pileated woodpecker, a bird three times her size.
If you’re not a bird person, picture a giant-sized bird who looks like Woody Woodpecker. Even this huge loudmouth woodpecker with a killer-length bill got the message that the tree was private property.
In the Spring, all the other robins came back, the crabapple tree bloomed, and I lost track of the Lone Robin Ranger. But some time in early June, I noticed that a robin was nesting in the beams supporting the roof of our car port. I thought it was pretty sweet, catching glimpses of the robin flying in and out of her nest. I watched her sitting stoically for the long summer weeks, waiting for the baby robins to finally peck their way of those lovely sky blue eggs. “I mean you no harm,” I would say gently whenever I noticed the robin eyeing me warily as I got in and out of my car.
Our relationship seemed to be going along OK until I started finding bird poop on the roof of my car. Well, I had to admit, it made sense. She was stuck up there, tending her nest, and probably didn’t want to fly too far from her nest to take her bathroom breaks. I could live with the occasional splatters. But things escalated. Now there was poop on the doors of my car, on the windows. I wasn’t feeling great about the whole situation. But I figured she didn’t know what she was getting herself into when she built the nest up there, and she was clearly giving me a message. “This is now my space,” she was telling me, loud and clear.
Since I am a practiced accommodator, I made the decision to start parking the car in the driveway while she was nesting. No big deal. The only challenging thing about it was how hot the car got sitting there in the sun, black paint just soaking in the heat. Well, I told myself, just leave the windows open. That will at least bring the temperature down enough for me to get into the car when I had to drive somewhere. But the robin wanted me gone. Gone. Banished from her kingdom. She gave me her ultimatum by flying inside the car and pooping on the dashboard. Not just once either.
There was no live-and-let-live with this bird. She was occupying 17 Town Beach Road, the crabapple tree, my car and the carport, and she wasn’t going to negotiate.
The long summer eventually turned to Fall, and I felt deeply grateful when I stopped seeing the bird glaring at me from her nest. She seemed to have moved out of the carport, and I hoped she had left the premises entirely. But when the other birds flew South for the winter, she remained, taking over the tree outside my window once again.
I ignored her. Things were ok again with us. But when Spring returned, I braced myself for another battle in the carport. I even felt a little disappointed when she didn’t appear to be nesting this summer above my car. Mostly, though, I felt deep relief. I hadn’t liked being engaged in a battle with a creature whose brain was no bigger than the first joint of my pinky finger.
Dorothy had to break the unsettling news to me one June day, She had been meditating in our healing room on the first floor. “Dusty,” she said gently, “you have to come and take a look at this.” I followed her in to the room. “Be very quiet, and move slowly,” she whispered, and led me to the window. We were offered a very close-up view of a newly-built bird’s nest on the meter box in the corner outside the window. We could look right into the nest. You’d think I would have been overjoyed.
The minute I saw it, though, I knew it was HER nest! It was lurching off the side of the meter box, messy, poorly constructed, almost too small for the bird herself, let alone two or three eggs. I turned away, groaning. “That’s a ridiculous place for a nest!” I said. “It’s within easy reach of any predator that wants an easy snack. What a disaster!” We looked at each other helplessly. There was no way that we could intervene, and we dreaded what was bound to play itself out.
Unbelievably, the robin sat determinedly on her wreck of a nest, day after day. I couldn’t stop myself from compulsively peeking, hidden behind the window curtain. I was expecting some form of mishap. The bird glared menacingly at me if she spotted me, but otherwise sat like a Zen master, apparently unperturbed.
The day we saw that she had actually produced two eggs, I began to get even more worked up. “She’s never going to be able to protect the eggs, let alone the hatchlings,” I told Dorothy, almost wringing my hands. “She’s going to be a totally unfit mother. I can’t stand this!”
Unlike me, Dorothy generally has the good sense to know the difference between the things she can change and the things she cannot. She pointed out that there was nothing we could do about the situation, and if it was going to be that upsetting, I didn’t have to keep sneaking peeks of the robin or her nest.
Then, one day, she called me into the healing room, her voice signaling something miraculous. “I think a baby has hatched!” she told me. “You really have to be very quiet and move very slowly. Look!” Barely breathing, we looked into the nest and indeed there was a fluffy something underneath the robin. This should have been a magical moment, but I fast-forwarded to envisioning a grim future for the baby. I wondered if it was even alive underneath the mother. The bird ignored us – as if we weren’t two giant faces hovering within a foot of her nest.
The next few days, I experienced an unsettling mix of excitement and anxiety. First, there was the discovery that there appeared to be more than one living bunch of fluff in the nest. Because of the absurdly tiny space for two babies and one large seemingly incompetent mother, I was convinced that one of the babies would be suffocated, or that something unspeakably deformed was there, hidden by its more fortunate sibling and its witless mother.
To my astonishment, two normal-looking baby birds became distinguishable, soon almost as large as their mother, and very hungry. Two beaks were raised in hope whenever the mother robin flew off, although it seemed impossible to believe that they and their mother were all inhabiting the rapidly deteriorating nest. I repeatedly voiced my worries that the mother wasn’t coming back. I predicted that the little orphans would starve to death as we watched helplessly.
By the end of July, I finally had to admit that the robin had completely surprised me. Again and again, I looked for signs of mayhem and tragedy. What I saw instead were two thriving baby birds and one devoted mother. And then one day, the nest was empty. There on our lawn were three robins, two asking the third to feed them. But the wise mother was now teaching them to find their own bugs and worms.
Now we’re getting through another winter. Once again, the robin didn’t leave for the South with the flock. She’s reclaimed the crab apple tree, and still holding her own with the pileated woodpecker. Today the first serious snow storm of the year is raging around us, and I brought some bird food out to the front yard for her since she doesn’t feed at our birdfeeder. I hope she makes it through this storm, though of course I’m imaging the worst for her. I hope she surprises me.