I’ve been seeing robins in the backyard and it reminded me of this story I wrote a few years ago.
My husband mentioned seeing a weird piece of construction in a high branch of the lilacs, which are now reaching for the power lines. I couldn’t resist checking it out. The moment he went to mow the backyard, I climbed up the stepladder and sure enough, there was a neatly shaped nest at the top, bottomed off with rough and dangling twigs and grasses. It reminded me of starting out at the crack of dawn, expecting to get a lot of weeding done, only to end an hour later, leaving behind half of the encroaching ferns. I figured this bird couple began with the best of intentions, then lost motivation when the sun blazed directly above. At least, that’s the first impression I got from this messy, seemingly unfinished aerie.
I looked online for nest identification and was surprised to see a picture that could have been taken in my lilac bush. The text explained that female red robins build their nest out of grasses, a layer of mud, then lined with fine grasses, placed in the fork of two branches of a tree or shrub 5 to 20-feet-high. The lilac bush was approximately ten-feet-high, thus the ladder. I was so excited about this news that I climbed a bit higher on the ladder and peeked down into the nest. That unmistakable color cinched it — we had three baby robins waiting to emerge.
Daily observation proved there were definitely two robins bringing worms and whatnot to feed the babies, but since the male and female robin are nearly identical, I couldn’t tell if the robins’ baby mama or baby daddy was doing a better job of it. When no parents were in sight, I dragged the ladder over, grabbed a skinny branch for support and instantly heard loud cheeping, then saw three gaping maws. After that invasion of privacy, the adults took turns staring at my front picture window, which looks out onto the lilac bushes and their children. Once I walked outside to take a better look, and two robins advanced on me for just a few steps, then flew off. I well remembered being attacked by mockingbirds in south Florida when I came to close to nests, so I gave the robins a wide berth.
As happens in the summer, a sudden thunderstorm with high wind and a downpour of heavy rain came up. I went out with an umbrella to check on the nest; it was swinging to and fro as one branch, then another, was buffeted. I feared what would happen to these near-fledglings if they fell ten feet down. Would they be cushioned by the ferns and grass beneath? Would the parents somehow get them back in the nest or feed them on the ground? Not to worry, the storm ended as quickly as it began and the nest was intact.
On a recent Sunday morning, I awoke earlier than I wanted to — startled by a raucous noise outside our bedroom window. Perched on the high wires directly above the lilac bushes, a phalanx of birds were squawking, “whistling” their wings and racing to and fro. I thought perhaps the hawk had returned, and searched the high branches of the nearby trees. There were only two robins in the group — the rest of the formation consisted of the usual backyard feeders.
It’s a fanciful thought, but perhaps it takes an avian village to raise three little robins.