It all began with a note in the journal. “Robin babies have hatched!” Almost everything else went on hold as four tiny creatures took center stage. The living room resembled a hunter’s blind. Camouflage material covered the windows. Lamps were moved to the dining room as books, chairs and small tables were pushed aside. We needed room for the ladder that allowed us to squint through the camouflage and position photos without disturbing the birds.
The nest was only five feet from the window and we watched it being built. Later, we monitored the female as she brooded her eggs. We could see them being turned and sometimes it even looked like she was listening to them. Then one day she wasn’t on the nest. When she returned it was to feed these tiny, tiny creatures and “change their diapers.” That was the routine throughout the raising of the young. Both parents were fastidious about keeping the nest clean.
For the first few hours, the female did the feeding while the male stayed nearby. Later the same day, he also began feeding. He was actually the better provider and always had a mouthful of worms. He was also careful to see that more than one baby was fed. Both parents never failed to see that one or more of the babies produced a fecal sac which they would then carry away or swallow. This feeding ritual went on almost nonstop throughout the day. Every afternoon, however, four well fed babies couldn’t keep their heads up or their eyes open. They slept most of the time. Only when a special sixth sense told them food was on the way, did they stretch those scrawny necks and get ready to demand for their share.
For the first three or four days, the parents brooded the young during inclement weather and at night. Then the nest became too crowded and the rate of growth almost seemed to take place as we watched. Every morning we checked to see how they had changed overnight. Once their eyes opened at about three days, they started runching around and getting restless.
One youngster, probably the oldest, fell or was pushed from the nest. We didn’t see it happen but while working in the yard we heard chirping coming from where it shouldn’t. “Get the ladder. You have to put one of the babies back in the nest.” My long-suffering spouse set a rescue record and the parents didn’t catch us handling one of their offspring. The little fellow was young enough to be content to stay in the nest on this first excursion but I knew that wouldn’t last.
That day came, and it came at least three days before we thought it would. That afternoon, the first baby disappeared. The next day, one by one and over a period of several hours, the other three left. Whoever was contemplating escaping would climb farther and farther out on a nearby branch. Turn your back for a moment and it was gone. Finally, it came down to the last baby. It was the youngest and still had its natal-down ears. I watched as the male came in and fed it and shortly after the female also flew up to the branch. Her beak was full of worms but she only showed them to the baby and then flew to the beauty bush a few feet away. She wanted this one out of the nest before it got dark. Fifteen minutes after the last feeding they were all gone.
That isn’t the end of the story. For the next few days, robin alarm calls as well as calls from hunting crows and Steller’s jays, kept us checking for mischief. Working in the garden has its rewards. It’s easy to monitor who is flying where. The parents are still gathering worms and bugs nonstop but the babies are tucked away in two different corners of the yard where the protective cover is dense blackberries and wild roses.
Now, we are waiting to see some handsome young robins still wearing their spots learn to do their own worm gathering. I’ve always admired hardworking robin parents and that admiration has only grown during this intimate look at life inside the nest.Write to Joan Carson, PO Box 217, Poulsbo, WA 98370. Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. (or email firstname.lastname@example.org)