When I first saw the mother robin sitting in the old dove’s nest on my back deck, part of me wanted to say “Fly Away!” After all, it was June in New York and the days were finally getting warm enough to enjoy sitting outside in my backyard. But I couldn’t bring myself to do so, so she sat on her nest for days until one day she flew away. The nest was in a wire basket that was hanging on the outside wall of my house. Ironically, there was an outdoor thermometer in the basket with birds painted on its face.
It was July 10th when I snuck out onto my deck to take my first look in the nest. I was expecting to maybe see a couple of blue robin’s eggs inside. But to my surprise, there were three tiny fetus-looking birds nestled together. As the mother robin squawked at me from the tree, I quickly retreated back inside my house.
Over the following week, I noticed that there were two birds that were caring for the nest. One had smooth feathers and the other had a scruffy disheveled look to it. I soon realized that the one with the smooth feathers was papa-bird and that the scruffy-looking one was mama-bird, after all, she had just laid three eggs. They took fastidious care of their young, taking endless turns to sit on the nest to keep the babies warm. As the babies grew, the care that they needed seemed to become even more arduous. The mama and papa birds were tirelessly flying off and returning to drop worms into the three soundless gaping mouths. If I tried to venture out onto my deck while the babies were alone in their nest, the young ones immediately shut their beaks and laid down as low as they could in their nests as the adult birds screeched at me from the trees and swooped down toward the deck in a threatening manner.
Again, I retreated back to the safety of my house. Nine days after the first sighting of the babies, the strongest of the three was standing on top of the others. He practiced beating his wings but didn’t leave the nest. My husband and I worried about them falling out of the nest before they were ready to fly and so I snuck back out onto the deck and braved the anger of the adult birds to move two small snack tables under their nest.
Two days later, when they were twelve days old, the strongest baby flew from his nest leaving his two brothers behind. Later the same day, we watched as a second baby sort of jumped/flew to the edge of our deck, leaving the smallest of the three still in the nest. I read up on baby robins taking their first flight and found that they spend the first few days in the same location practicing their flying techniques as their wing muscles mature. The mama-bird leaves them in a few days to start a new nest but the papa-bird stays a bit longer. Eventually he leaves too and joins the mama-bird again to help her keep the new eggs warm.
A couple of days before the first baby left its nest we noticed that our deck floor was suddenly filled with bird poop. Now, we watched as the adult birds came to the last baby in the nest and fed it worms. As soon as the worm was fed, the adult bird would reach down into the nest and take out the baby’s white poop that was in a membrane sack and then fly away with it to keep the nest clean.
Later that day, the biggest of the baby birds returned to the deck and was “talking” to the last baby still in the nest. I knew this bird because he had a large red-speckled breast. But no matter how hard he tried, his little brother was not having any of this flying stuff and instead stood his ground in the nest. We watched as papa-bird fed the big brother on the railing of our deck, immediately followed by a white membrane being excreted.
The following morning, July 23rd, the nest was empty. They were all gone and I felt both proud that they had made it and sad that they were gone. The next morning, I searched the yard, trying to see if any of them were still around, but they seemed to have really left me. Then on the evening of July 25th, I was barbecuing for the first time since mama-bird had first sat on the old nest. And as I looked up toward the backyard fence, I saw him. It was the strongest of the babies with his big red breast which had become a bit more solidly red. He jumped/flew down to the ground and picked up a worm. He flapped his wings again and landed back on the top of the fence, ate the worm, and pooped a white membrane sack. He hopped along the fence while I ran inside to get my phone and waited for me to take a final picture of him. Then he flew away for the last time.
Theresa Dodaro is the author of The Tin Box Trilogy, https://theresadodaro.com.