Sunday, June 17, 2012

Close Encounters of the Bird Kind - Part 1

About five weeks ago now, I was sitting at my computer when I heard a scratching sound at the window. I looked up and there was a bird’s tail sweeping against the glass. A mother robin was building a nest on our window sill! She had just about completed the shell of the nest, and by later that afternoon she had filled it with dry grass. What an opportunity to watch one of nature’s miracles!
Sure enough, a few days later there were four blue eggs in the nest (I googled “robins” and found out the mother lays them one day at a time.) After that we would see her brooding in earnest early every morning, until she flew off to get some breakfast, and then back on the nest.
Right on schedule, two weeks later, I peered cautiously into nest while Mom was away and saw a little pile of trembling baby-feathers! The hatching had started. Things picked up quickly after that, with both parents flying back and forth with interesting (to a robin) bits of things to eat, and classic gaping beaks eagerly receiving what was offered.
Then, trouble! The mother robin went missing. At first we thought we just weren’t around when she was feeding her chicks. But as the days went by, the youngsters began to languish. Sometimes they’d be lying with their heads against the edge of the nest, beaks gaping; sometimes they’d be lying in a pile at the bottom of the nest. At times I wondered if we’d lost them, but if I looked closely, I could see the top one on the pile breathing. What should we do?! Try to rescue them? How? Let nature take its course? Then one evening the father appeared, perching on the side of the nest, and the chicks sprang into action – but he didn’t bring any food! Then he flew off and the chicks subsided. Had he given up on them?
That did it! The next morning I got on the phone and managed to track down a songbird lady in Rockwood, a town about an hour away. After I described the situation, she agreed to take them in, and I went to find a box to put the nest in for the trip. Suddenly the father was there again – this time with a big fat worm in his beak! So I call the songbird lady back and we agreed that we should leave well enough alone and see what happened.
Well! Things took a turn for the better after that. And a second bird appeared to help with the feeding. Was it the mother back again? An aunt? An uncle? Does the robin community have a crisis response protocol for looking after orphans? In any case the babies thrived and grew until they barely could fit in the nest. Fledging time approached. But that’s a story for another day.

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