Sunday, June 24, 2012

Close Encounters of the Bird Kind - Part 2

A week ago Tuesday, I ate my dinner standing in front of the dining room window. I didn’t want to miss a moment of what was unfolding before me!
Once they had started being fed again, our nestling robins had grown and developed quickly. For the most part they seemed none the worse for wear after their earlier ordeal, although one of them was struggling. He was developing more slowly than the others. His neck was still scrawny and featherless, and he had difficulty keeping his head up in the “feed me!” position; he kept laying it down on the edge of the nest to rest. We were worried about him, but eventually even he began to fill out. The nest got so crowded that, once in a while, the chicks had to actually flap their wings in order to keep from being pushed out! (Good practice, I imagine.)
The parent birds took to standing beside the nest to feed them – there just wasn’t room on the rim. And they would call to the babies from nearby branches, causing the little ones to swivel around and stretch out their beaks in the direction of the sound – no small feat in such a crowded nest. The babies would get very excited and finally, late that Tuesday morning, the bravest got up on the edge of the nest, stretched his legs as tall as he could, flap his wings and hopped down onto the window sill!  Immediately the parent was there, with a big fat bug as a reward! But when the parent turned its attention to the other babies, our hero snuggled in as close as he could to the nest, and when the parent left, he shoehorned himself back in.
At that point I turned my attention to lunch. When I returned to the window sill, there were only three babies in the nest. Robin #1 had fledged!  I reluctantly left for my afternoon duties, fully expecting that when I came home, the nest would be empty. But no! There were still three robins in the nest. So I stationed myself in front of the window to eat my dinner.
Now that there was a little more room in the nest, there was a lot of preening, and head scratching, and fluffing of feathers going on. Little beaks were pulling out bits of baby fluff from underneath new, very grown-up looking feathers. The parents would call and the little heads would swivel to attention. Then Robin #2 got brave enough to hop out onto the window sill. Once again, the parent was right there with a reward. But after he flew away, rather than getting back into the nest, Robin #2 turned around and started cheeping encouragement to his siblings. Robin #3 climbed onto the edge of the nest, fluffed his feathers, flapped his wings – and turned around and backed down out of the nest. Then the little guy, not to be left out, quickly hopped down to the sill.
The three little robins huddled together on the window sill, then gradually made their way along the sill, in a kind of closely-packed leap-frogging. Finally they reached the end of their known world at the far end of the sill. There they sat, preening and scratching and fluffing and cheeping, until the parent came back. Once more fortified with food, Robin #2 stepped to the edge of the sill, and with a final fluffing and flapping, made the leap and flew directly across the yard, over the forest fence (about 20 feet away) to a low branch.
And then there were two. More fluffing and flapping and cheeping. And then once more the parent was there with food. These little robins knew what they were supposed to do, but would they do it? The little guy squeezed behind his sibling on the sill, and I could swear he was actually pushing! He seemed to be saying, “No way, José! You go!” And finally he did! Off to the right, out of sight, towards a nearby sumac.
Now there was the little guy, suddenly all alone for the first time in his life. OMG! He cheeped uncertainly a few times, then gradually made his way across the sill back towards the nest.  I wondered if he planned to get back into the nest. But when he was about two inches away he paused, fluffed his feathers (still with bits of baby fluff poking through), flapped his wings, and took off to the left, across the forest fence to the safety of the bush. Immediately the parent was there at his side. 
And that’s the last I saw of them. I imagined them practising their flying skills in the safety of the bush. Then, about a week later, a flock of robins appeared on our lawn. All looked like mature birds, but several of them were smaller – definitely younger. Were they our robins? I guess we’ll never know.

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