This is a true confessions column. I tried hard to do what was right, but Mother Nature challenged me today.
The tiny chick appeared on our back porch rug yesterday morning. And she just sat there. Time went by. Mother Robin did not come to check on her, and more time went by. When I realized how long she had been crouched there, without moving at all, I decided to find out if she was alive.
At the beginning of this month, we took great interest at the prospect of more winged grandbabies in the offing. We had watched as Mother Robin trimmed up the existing nest to suit herself. Soon there was a little blue egg – just one. We were hopeful about this late-in-the-season birth because we had already lost a duo of new robins in April. The chicks had been attacked in the nest. They were about a week old when we found them on the porch floor – featherless, bloodied and still. Heartbreaking.
Our nightly suppers on the deck are about 15 feet from the nest atop our baker’s rack – undercover, on the porch. Mom Robin would be nest tending when we opened the porch door, and she predictably swooped away. Even hand gestures precipitated her fearful departures, so we reined in our movements. Each evening, as we sat quietly, she began to tolerate us and return comfortably to her nursery.
This past week, we watched her feed her hatchling. Each day she brought fatter worms, bigger mouthfuls. The baby’s head bobbled back and forth, her bright yellow beak wide open. Mom jammed that little beak full and departed – back to the hunt.
We could tell the baby bird was growing stronger. Sunday night she stretched a wing over the edge of the nest. I said to Dear Richard, “That bird wants out. She’s been lying under her mother’s stomach long enough.” We laughed, thinking what that would be like.
Monday morning, she made it out. It’s a long trek for a 3-inch creature – from the nest on the top shelf of the 6-foot baker’s rack. All I could think of was kerplunk. Ouch. Kerplunk. Ow-w-w-w.
But there she was, in the middle of the carpet.
She (I called her a she, but I didn’t really know) had acquired most of her feathers but her eyes were not open. She had obviously climbed out of the nest in the early morning.
Finally, I worked up enough courage to determine if she was alive. I couldn’t detect breathing movement. I lightly dabbed the top of her head. She instantly rolled it back and opened her beak, pushing it up, up, up. “Please put something in it,” she said to me.
OK! She’s alive! But what do I do now? My first instinct was to do nothing, and some of the Googled info agreed with that. One article indicated that she should be returned to the nest. Other articles said not to worry – Mom will return and take charge.
I called a friend who knew a knowledgeable birder. It was a muggy, 83-degree afternoon. The birder said that a little water would probably be good. But how? I finally thought of the syringes I use monthly for my B12 shot. Aha! With room temperature water in a short glass, I took a seat near the newly feathered baby. No movement. That was when I realized she couldn’t see me. I drew the syringe half full and waited.
After what seemed a long time, I lightly tapped her on the head again, she stretched her neck and that yellow beak opened wide. Her teeny tongue filled half her mouth. I squirted the super-fine stream of water directly onto it. She took it in and begged for more. We did this only a few times. And then she sat up on her legs, her thready claws gripping the carpet. Standing, she rocked back and forth a bit, waggling her wings, then crumped down again. But I was hopeful.
I left her there for the rest of the afternoon. Mama never came. By dusk, I was worried about overnight and other animals. I gently scooped her up and put her back in the nest. Many checks before bedtime confirmed no movement. And no Mama.
This morning, before I even went for coffee, I went to the porch. Barefoot, I was at the baker’s rack, just ready to reach into the nest, when I stepped on something. Before I looked down, I knew what it was. My brave, precious little friend had made it out of the nest again, only to die in the process. I don’t know if she was hurt by the fall, or went hungry. But she is beautiful, barely a handful, now forever stilled. Now lost to the statistics on baby robins. The books say that less than 25% of each year’s nestlings make it to November. And my little charge will never see August.
I failed. And in my sadness, I question whether my responses contributed to the chick’s death. I’m trying to accept that Mother Nature is in charge. She can be a mean one.
Marcy O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]