Robin [Non]Sense


Whoever coined the phrase bird brain was surely observing a robin. I am fortunate to have a backyard at the edge of urban woods, so it provides refuge to many nesting birds, including cardinals, catbirds, robins, wrens, song sparrows, and bluejays. They go about their business each spring, courting (and singing lustily) and eventually building their nests and raising their families. Only the robins have trouble getting settled. It seems every year there is a variation on robin nonsense. Last year a pair insisted on building their nest on the low ledge just outside my studio window. It was behind a climbing rose, so they thought they were protected, but every time I moved in my studio, they fled in terror. Worried that they wouldn't sit on the four eggs the female had deposited in the nest, I had to cover the bottom half of the windows. I did occasionally get a good peek at the hatchlings (and a few photos), but I spent my time tiptoeing so as not to disturb the family. Their story has an unfortunate ending, as the low ledge was convenient for marauding racoons. One morning I found the remains of two baby birds in the bird bath, where the raccoons had probably washed them before consuming the tasty bits. It was heartbreaking. Two years ago, robins built in a hedge that provided safety, but the nest was right above the tomato plants. Every time I reached for the ripe fruit, I was attacked by a furious diving robin. I took to wearing a large brimmed hat and long sleeves whenever I ventured into the garden. My most alarming robin encounter involved rescuing a female who got her leg tangled in string she was carrying to her nest. I found her screeching and fluttering upside down in the bamboo, unable to free herself. After some precarious maneuvering of a step ladder, I managed to catch her in a dishtowel and cut her down. Then I drove half an hour with the robin in a shoebox on my lap to a vet who would treat her broken leg. The leg had to be amputated, and I kept the robin in that box for several days, feeding her on ripe strawberries. When I let her go, she flew off in a huff and built her nest in a neighbor's yard. Now a new robin pair is attempting to build above the screen door on the porch—the most used door in the house. The ledge is too narrow, and the grasses and mud just fall off, but this doesn't seem to deter them. They keep starting over in exactly the same place (and complaining every time we pass underneath). So much frenetic energy with no thought to the outcome. Seems like a good definition of bird brain to me.