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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wonky Robin

the robins we have here are called 'American Robins'. British Robins are a little chubbier, and, i believe, a little more colorful. ours are lanky and subtle.

well, some of them are subtle. this particular robin was a cheeky blighter with an attitude that would make a rhinoceros proud.

they're very territorial birds, i'm told. and, i'm not sure if it's the norm, but it's fairly common for a male robin to build a nest in order to attract a female. it seems the ladies like some assurance that his intentions are honorable.

but he'll pick the oddest place to build the blessed thing!!! i've seen them glued on the traffic side of a tractor trailer, with the tiniest lip of metal supporting the whole structure he expects his intended to raise a family in. or on top of the carriage light between two electric garage doors. i'm sure herself's first words on inspecting such a dwelling are 'what were you thinking?!' and the second sentence she speaks is probably 'i'm going home to mother till you come up with something habitable'.

this particular romeo chose for his 'home' base the horizontal beam that supported the second story deck of the old church i was renovating. it was on the west side of the building, broadside to the prevailing winds. each joist of the deck above rested perpendicular to this beam, forming a little box which created a mini wind tunnel. were flatlanders here. there IS wind. a LOT of wind.

now, romeo was on his own for some time. i'm not sure if there had been some confusion about where and when the rendezvous would occur, or if he was a magnificent optimist who just knew someone wonderful would appear magically, and find him irresistible. i tend towards the magnificent optimist theory, and here's why. romeo didn't just build a nest. there were something in the neighborhood of a dozen little wind tunnels on that beam. he built a nest in every one of them. or, he tried to..... he drove himself crazy trying to.

remember the wind? in the tunnel? often i'd come home from work and walk under the deck to the front door, in that howling prairie wind. and i'd notice as i strode along, that those once-nest-filled tunnels were empty, or had only tattered shreds of vegetable matter left in them. but the next day (if the wind had abated) there'd be little heaps of new - or possibly recycled - vegetable matter in each of them. if enough windless days managed to cling to each other long enough to become a weather pattern, there'd soon be a little nest in each darling little hurricane chute. till the wind woke up again. this continued from spring till well into summer, and still no sign of a missus.

i mentioned that robins are territorial. i haven't yet mentioned the scaffold. it had been built to facilitate installing the new roof part of the renovation. it worked terrifically for that purpose, and the roof - a gorgeous blue sheet metal with a pitch that a chinese pagoda would envy - had been through its second winter by then. i couldn't see that the scaffold continued to serve any useful purpose, and the horizontal footpath planks were right at eye level from inside the building. as well as being in the direct line of vision, whenever it rained, muddy water splattered all over the windows. i wasn't sure why it even existed anymore, but any effort to discuss the subject with the architect and engineer responsible for the structure - my (now ex-) husband - resulted in long periods of darkly silent glowering and pouting. even the kids knew better than to behave that way, for crying out loud.

turns out i was wrong about the scaffolds not serving any useful purpose. romeo discovered they were perfect for pacing on. perhaps he was relieving sexual tension, what with no missus, and all that nest building. he spent every waking moment that he wasn't building nests walking the plank. back and forth in front of the windows. he must have had drumsticks of steel. his favorite spot seemed to be the kitchen window - glaring at me as i did all the kitchen things one does with 2 teenage boys who can't eat processed food. i spent a lot of time in that kitchen. when he couldn't stand it any more, he'd fly screaming at the window in a fury, with murder in his eyes. so now the windows were splattered with mud & robin guck and covered with robin footprints and feather smudges. bleargh!

this went on for much of the summer. he didn't bother us in the yard, but he seemed to consider the house his turf, and anyone inside it fair game. more than one visitor who dared approach a window from inside was frightened off by his sudden and very angry appearance. several made reference to alfred hitchcock's 'the birds'.

i'm not a 'birder', but i like birds. i like the way they fill my yard with song, and i keep my bedroom window open all summer because i like to wake up to the sounds of their conversations, even if i don't understand the language. i like to keep a bird feeder and feel very proud when i can identify one or two of my dinner guests. i don't want them to be hungry in the winter. at first i thought he was charming. then, amusing. then, though he was becoming annoying, i empathized with his frustrated nesting instinct. by the time july was ripening tomatoes, i'd about had it with him, and i was calling him ugly names and wishing he'd go away. my front step was always full of trash from his bloody nests, and i didn't dare go near any of my blinkin' filthy windows when i was inside my own damned house. i'm ashamed to say, i even told him i could see why he was still single, and i thought he deserved to die a virgin. the sooner the better.

but miracles do happen. one day, he was gone. the wind blew the last of his nests away. i washed all of my windows. my friends made tentative forays over for tea. a new robin's nest appeared on that carriage light i mentioned earlier, between two electric doors on the garage across the street. he'd found his lady love after all, but, though he'd given her a dozen cozy nests to choose from, she hadn't liked the neighborhood, and he had to help her build a new one, from scratch. baby robins grow at a phenomenal rate, and we caught glimpses of them feeding and learning to fly, before the family packed up for the trip south.

i guess my Mr. didn't like the neighborhood either. he left the following winter. one of the first things i did the spring after he left was tear down the cursed scaffold. i wasn't chancing the arrival of any more wonky robins.

13 comments:

susan said...

I'm intrigued.

Linda said...

it must be robin week?! ;)
xox

Cicero Sings said...

Aren't you a tease!

gfid said...

Su, Linda & Cicero - i hope you enjoy the story. i found an unhatched, complete robin's egg, probably infertile, dropped on my lawn later this same summer, which i had framed in a shadow box as a memento of him.

susan said...

Sorry it's taken a few days for me to return but this morning's visit has been well worth the electronic journey. I didn't know any of that information about robins - or male robins in particular. The idea of a sexually frustrated bird marching up and down the board paths of an old scaffold is quite remarkable. His tenacity in continuing to build nests in an impossible place and blaming you speaks volumes about the alpha male ego. I'm glad he finally compromised and found some happiness. Hopefully, your ex found some too but at least his flight allowed you to concentrate on a better nest of your own.

gfid said...

i'm not saying this robin's behaviour was typical.... don't consider him a precedent that others should follow.... i shudder to think he may have passed on his weirdness to his children. in some cultures, the female is the alpha.... coyotes, for example..... once i got over the spousal abandonment, i decided i'm pretty much done with alpha males. not sure if he's happy or not. he still doesn't talk to me.

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Grany F

Sounds like your description of your lanky and subtle male robins placing too much reliance on flimsy structures to support a future family is reminder of the frailty of the human species in many cases.
I used to have a little black bird that usually appeared with enthusiastic chirps to signal an arrival and to follow me around the garden fossicking for insects which I had disturbed. I used to play games by taking aim with the hose which prompted a game of hide and seek behind the bushes. Out the bird would trot defiantly once the decision was made to re-emerge with confidence together with a good deal of chirping. Obviously disappointed I could not join in on the conversation. A hosing when hot, of course, was a welcome relief. Great pictures in the previous post.

linda said...

I laughed my silly head off reading about this after 'trying' to be civil to my pair of them still out there, in MY rosemary bush, raising two little ones, in what seems to me, a very slow method of robin raising....

and they fly at me and squawk and strut and crap and just make a bleeping mess all over the place and next year, i am barring the bush....IT WILL NOT HAPPEN... hear me, robin family?

but truthfully, my guess is they'll beat me to it and i will once again have to turn off my fountain because they have crapped in it thus it stopped running, the pump clogged up ....fingers crossed it's fixed before the robins are gone or i will not be responsible.... :) xoxox

gfid said...

lindsay - hard to know what's going on in a bird's mind, isn't it? your blackbird sounds like excellent company! we had a neighborhood bluejay one year, raised by the neighbors after he fell out of the nest and couldn't be returned. he used to follow us around the garden too, and the kids would find him bugs and earthworms. glad you liked the pictures of vancouver.

linda - yeurgh! fountain full of robin doodoo. there goes the neighborhood! no wonder you want them to relocate. good luck with that. i've been told that often robins raise more than one family in a season. you may be hosting a couple of batches.

Vincent said...

Wow, GrannyF, an excellent piece you have written of humorous nature notes.

Our English robins are no relation, I think. They appear on our Christmas cards because they are drawn to people, especially gardeners - presumably in hope that sods will be turned over revealing juicy worms etc. I've never found their nests but in the nature books I read as a child, they liked to nest in discarded tin kettles thrown into hedgerows.

gfid said...

Vincent - i'm glad you enjoyed the story. perhaps your English robins are just SANE ;0) i like the mental picture i get of a robin's nest in an old tea kettle.

susan said...

Yes, I too am pretty sure English robins and N. American ones are entirely different species. I used to love the Christmas cards that came from our English relatives when I was a child - the ones with a robin sitting on a snowy holly branch were especially sweet.

gfid said...

su- not many robins in our neck of the woods at christmas time.... nor holly either..... that isn't imported.