Life & death in the Wild Kingdom – Robin Update

Robin Nest EmptyOne day, I looked past my computer screen, out the window to the front lawn, where a smallish bird pecked away at the wood chips under a Redbud tree. At that exact moment, a Red-tailed hawk swooped down out of the sky and captured the smaller bird in its talons. The hawk remained on the ground for the time it took to look around, then it flew off, the smaller bird firmly in its claws. If the smaller bird was not already dead, there’s no doubt it would be soon. The whole event took less than 10 seconds.

Wow! We had an episode of Wild Kingdom right in our yard. Excited by what I’d seen, I rushed to tell my husband.

We had another episode of Wild Kingdom in our yard yesterday.  Yesterday morning, I peeked at the robin nest on my bathroom windowsill, hoping as I did each day to see the eggs start to hatch. The eggs were still intact though the robin was away getting breakfast. That whole “early bird” thing. I went about my day.

That afternoon, I took another peek at the nest. Not only was the robin gone, but the nest was empty! All the eggs gone, no doubt to a predator bird. Possibly a Blue Jay. We have many of those in our yard and they’re known for robbing nests. 

As one reader pointed out, the window sill was a very exposed site. Perhaps the robin was a first-time mother, choosing the site for it’s warmth rather than safety. Since robins nest two or more times a year, perhaps she’ll come back to this nest or she may choose another site.  My husband agreed we’ll leave the nest where it is, just to see.

Nesting in a more protected site.

Nesting in a more protected site.

Looking for solace from our loss, I want to check on the nest on the downspout under the eaves. As I stood looking at that nest, which unfortunately I cannot see into, the mama robin arrived with a worm in her beak. The wide-open mouths of baby robins stretched above the edge of the nest and Mama shared the bounty. Having served lunch, Mama settled into the nest to keep the young warm while they napped.

I’m hopeful for this nest, protected as it is by the eave, downspout and corner of the house. But even that is no guarantee. My husband had a nest in just such a position on a downspout at his shop. The eggs hatched, the young were headed toward fledging. At that point, a hawk swooped in and robbed the nest. No robin has chosen that site since.

As another reader reminded me, reproduction is a numbers game. The more eggs, the more likely one is to survive. The very fact that robins lay clutches of multiple eggs and do it more than once a year speaks to the species knowledge that not all will make it. Maybe even that most will not.

What’s the message here? I guess one is that there are no assurances in life. We do the best we can, but we do live in a wild kingdom.

 Other Robin posts:
How to spend waiting time? A robin, writing update
And then there were four
A bird’s eye view

Comments

  1. Carol, I was sad to learn of the small bird being whisked away by a hawk and and sad to learn of the robin and the four eggs vanishing. But, as you wrote, that is how it can be in the wild kingdom. Still, I’m sorry for your losses.

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      Thank you, Barbara. Such things are going on around us all the time but it is only when it comes close, as this robin did, that it becomes so personal. I hope to see the other babies take wing.

  2. I had a similar wild kingdom moment once with a hummingbird. My husband and I were sitting out on the front porch, watching a ruby-throated hummingbird as it zipped two and from our hummingbird feeder, which was no more than five feet away from where were were sitting. Our little friend had only just arrived for another mouthful when a large bird zoomed in and whisked the little guy away in his talons. It happened so quickly, we never even got a good notion of what the predator bird was. It was all rather shocking,

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      It’s startling when you see it happen right in front of you. Since hummingbirds are so fast, it is even more surprising.

      • It hurts when the “nice” creatures get eaten. A few weeks ago I saw a big crow in our back yard. Looking closer, I saw it had grabbed a baby rabbit out of its nest and had it half eaten. Those rabbits hide their nests pretty well, too. It hurts to see even pesky critters’ babies get eaten. Mother Nature is not all that nice.

        • Carol Bodensteiner says:

          You’re right, Linda. We make value judgements about this, but nature is neutral. Once I went looking for hostas that the rabbits wouldn’t eat. The man at the nursery said, “All God’s creatures have to eat.” He waited a beat and then added, “I’m lucky my dog likes to eat rabbits.”

  3. Hi Carol: I enjoy reading your blog but don’t often comment. Just wanted to say hi!
    Best, Claire

  4. Our neighborhood had a pigeon problem before the hawks move in. Now there’s a sort of balance. There are still some pigeons but not the flocks we had before and the occasional hawk circling high above. I know it’s sad because you’ve gotten to know the robin family. 🙁 I think we had one of those empty nests with crushed eggs before. It was a dove who put a nest on our fence post [exposed area]. Probably some raccoon got to it and there hasn’t been any doves reusing that nest before it fell apart.

    • We have had an increasing number of raptors around our property. We see them more in part, I think, because I established a prairie area a few years ago. Cats like to hang out in the prairie because there are so many other small animals to hunt there. The raptors keep watch because of the small animals, including cats. The food chain is so readily visible!

  5. Carol, so sad that the eggs and Mama have disappeared. Also sad that the hawk got his little bird in his clutches and whisked it away. We’ve had four summers of merlin hawks nesting nearby, and some eggs have disappeared from nests around our home. It is the rule in mother nature, and yes, nature is neutral. Still, we are saddened at loss of any kind. 🙁

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      I am sad about losing the eggs, Sherrey. I had such high hopes for them.

      On another hand, I’m glad we have the hawks and other raptors around. It says something healthy about the environment since many raptors were almost taken to extinction by the use of DDT. Since it’s ban, raptors, including our Bald Eagles, are making a comeback. There are at least two, if not three or four, sides to every issue!

  6. Hi Carol,

    I have a special love for birds, so it was hard to read about the robins. But as others have pointed out, all creatures have to eat. James Dickey wrote a poem called “The Heaven of Animals” that finds some beauty in that savagery.
    http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/171425

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      There is always a balance and a tradeoff. I love the birds. I also love cats. Thanks for sharing Dickey’s poem, Mary. I appreciate poets for their ability to take these observations of life (and death) and give us a new way to absorb them.

  7. Wild Turkey nests are made in the ground. A shallow depression is lined with leaves and covered up with vines and other plants. Ten to fifteen eggs are laid. Eggs are light brown, with black and dark brown spots. The female will sit on the eggs for a month are more. This makes her very vulnerable to predators .

    • We have wild turkeys here in Iowa, but I’d never considered how they nested. I can imagine in addition to predator birds, turkeys would have to worry about fox, coyotes and who, knows even cats. Interesting. Thanks for sharing, Darin.

  8. The best way to identify a bird is by its eggs. It is helpful to know where the eggs were found, color, markings, size and shape. The habitat and location of the nest is important in singling out the type of wild bird. In California, the type of wild bird eggs that you could possibly find are American Robins, Dark-eyed Juncos, Golden-crowned Sparrows, Hermit Thrushes and Chestnut-backed Chickadee plus various others.

    • I have not had the opportunity to see into many birds’ nests. The nest on my windowsill was my first such experience. Other than the American Robins, the birds you mention are not common in Iowa. Spotting unfamiliar birds is one of the things I enjoy about traveling. Thanks for commenting, Arnold!

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