I barely glimpsed her ruby-red chest as she winged by me, straight towards the wreath hanging from the light across from our front door. When she realized I was near her, she dropped her twigs and darted away. When I looked up, I understood that I had interrupted Mama Robin's nest-building. I hurried into the house to keep from disturbing her. To my delight I found out that I could spy on Mama Robin from my front window.
I live in the country adjacent to trees, shrubs, and forests, so many birds build nests and have their young in my territory. This bird, however, is the first one who has given me a front row seat to the birth and raising of her family.
Robins are special to me. The majority of my life was spent in the city where robins were the first birds to whom I was introduced.
"When the robins arrive, spring and warm weather are not far behind," was the saying every city youngster knew. Finding the first spring robin became a competitive game for us. The smart kids checked out the ground where robins would be scavenging for worms instead of in the air and trees where the other birds dwelled.
I alerted my husband to the nest, and the need to travel through the back door instead of the front. I watched with delight as the drama of Mama and Papa Robin's family developed.
Mama robin flew up and back carrying grass, string, twigs and mud in order to build her
nest. Papa stood by on a nearby tree singing to her, and occasionally bringing her a twig. It made me think back to when I was pregnant, and my husband, Sam, and I moved into our first house. Life was reversed from what we were seeing from the birds. Sam built and fixed things and I handed him food and tools, but we worked together just like the robins did. Lucky for him I never sang.
Four light blue fertilized eggs appeared in the nest, and Mama Robin took up her two-week job of incubating the eggs. Papa took up residence in the tree right across from the nest so he could protect her as she sat on the eggs. When Mama Robin took a food break he was right there watching out for predators.
When my eggs were fertilized it took nine months before my babies were born, but my life span is a lot longer than hers. Throughout the whole incubation Mama Robin still kept her beautiful red-feathered figure, not gaining an once. I was jealous as I thought back to how I schlepped around with an enormous stomach. I guess it would be hard to fly if the babies were inside of Mama Robin instead of in the eggs in the nest.
One day four very squiggly opened-mouthed baby birds appeared in the nest, and two very busy devoted adult robins were constantly moving from nest to ground and tree to tree. The newly born robins needed to eat every thirty minutes and Mama and Papa had to hustle to find food. Unlike most other birds, robins mainly eat earthworms. The adults will occasionally eat fruit and insects. Only regurgitated food is fed to the babies the first week. Then, Mama and Papa drop whole worms into their opened mouths.
Unlike my babies, not a sound was heard from the baby birds. My babies knew a cry would bring help, while the baby robins somehow knew noise would bring danger. They sat quietly in the nest until Mama or Papa came with food. Then mouths were opened wide, and necks were stretched in competition to get fed.
Papa bird had an added problem. Larger birds such as hawks, and other animals such as squirrels, raccoons, or cats were known to prey on helpless young. So besides feeding the newborns, Papa stood sharp and erect on the edge of the nest, ready to attack any creature threatening his family.
I was so proud of those two birds. I made everyone go out the back door so the robins wouldn't be disturbed. Every morning I ran to the window to make sure all was well with my bird family.
I wondered if it was painful for Mama Robin to lay those eggs. Labor, especially with my firstborn, was no picnic. I can still remember those hours of agony, replaced, thank God, by the miracle of holding my darling little boy. I know it is the job of the baby robins to break through the shell in order to hatch, which isn't an easy job. I wonder: How can Mama and Papa Robin tell if their babies are boys or girls? We now have ultrasound for early identity for humans.
I felt sad on the day the nest was empty, and no robins were in sight. Reading tells me that once the fledglings can leave the nest, Mama and Papa Robin watch over them until they can fly well. Then the babies join Papa Robin at a roosting tree where other bird families gather to watch over all the young. Sometimes Mama Robin starts a new nest when Papa takes over the care of the fledglings. By the time the new babies are born the fledglings are able to fly and be on their own and Papa Robin can come back to help Mama with her second clutch.
It is almost like all living things are born with the job to pass on their DNA. Protective, loving families are needed to keep the planet surviving. From the one-celled organism to the giant elephant, the miracle of life is all around us. Sometimes, miracles are as close as outside our front doors.