Hungry & growing – A robin update

Mouths open, ready to eat!

Mouths open, ready to eat!

An experienced Mama Robin is very difficult to photograph. Her babies aren’t so easy to capture either. But I’m pleased to report that the baby robins in the downspout nest are making good progress.

 

As I passed by recently, Mama was dropping worms into wide-open mouths. As soon as I grabbed my camera, Mama flew off, probably hoping to attract me away from the nest. I snapped this picture before the babies got the word and retreated below the nest rim. You’ll need to look closely because the babies blend perfectly with the nest and the bricks behind them. Very good camouflage. There are at least two babies, maybe more, mouths up and wide open, ready to eat.

 

Mama doesn’t spend near as much time on the nest anymore. She spends more time shuttling back and forth, finding worms and bringing them back to fill hungry mouths. It helps, I’m sure, that the weather has grown modestly warmer. Mama’s food is more important to the babies than Mama’s body heat.

 

FYI, the windowsill nest is still in place but no one has returned to take up residence.

 

In other bird news, I looked up from reading the morning paper to see a Baltimore Oriole on the deck rail. My camera wasn’t handy, so I simply enjoyed the sight until the Oriole flew away. Then I quickly went for my camera and when I returned, there was an Indigo Bunting at the finch feeder.  I’ve never seen either Orioles or Indigo Buntings so close to the house.  In this picture, the Goldfinches are easy to see. Look to the bottom of the feeder and you’ll see the bright blue of the Bunting.

 

Two Goldfinches and an Indigo bunting

Two Goldfinches and an Indigo bunting

A bit of trivia courtesy of The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, “Indigo Buntings have no blue pigment; they are actually black, but the diffraction of light through the structure of the features makes them appear blue.”

 

I love this time of year. So many birds migrating offer a continuous show! 

 

Other Robin posts:
Life & Death in the Wild Kingdom

How to spend waiting time? A robin, writing update
And then there were four

A bird’s eye view

 

 

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

How to spend waiting time? A Robin & Writing Update

Robin incubating a clutch of eggs.

Robin incubating a clutch of eggs.

Waiting can be so difficult. That whole “watched pot” thing. Whether it’s 30 seconds to heat up the coffee in the microwave or 2 weeks for eggs to hatch – time just passes so slowly when you must wait for an outcome. I’m in that waiting phase in two ways now – with the robin nesting on my windowsill and with the novel I’m writing. 

Mrs. Red Breast moved from laying to incubating her clutch of four eggs. Though I left the shade up while she laid the eggs, now that she’s nesting, I’ve pulled it down to keep from startling her off the nest. An expectant mama just does not need to be startled or to worry about being startled.

Whether she worries or not, I don’t know. I’m likely ascribing my own emotions to her.  When she’s not on the nest, I worry if she’s abandoned it. Now that we’re experiencing an unseasonal and heavy snow, I worry the eggs will get too cold. I worry whether Mama can find enough food in the brief moments she flies away from her post.

To distract myself from my role as Chief Robin Worrier – I’ve been fortunate to have found the support of several readers who informed me a nest of eggs is called a clutch, and who shared links as well as their own knowledge of robin behavior. I thank all of you for your comments!  A few interesting things I’ve learned:

  • The American Robin is actually in the thrush family. Though immigrants to America named it after the European Robin, they’re not the same. The European Robin is similar in size and shape to some of our bluebirds.
  • Robins don’t listen for worms, though the way the cock their heads makes it appear that they do. Rather, one eye is trained on the ground watching for worms while the other eye is scanning the sky for predators. Here’s a link to more surprising robin facts.
  • American Robins can become trusting of humans; European Robins are not.
  • Even though robin nests look trashy, they are quite clean. Robins keep their nesting area and the nest itself cleared of insects.
  • The jury is out on when and how much the male robin is involved in caring for the young. Apparently it depends on how many babies hatch. Stay tuned. I’ll report on what I see.

I just love learning little things like this. Like Mrs. Red Breast, I am in the stage of anxiously/eagerly awaiting news of my novel, tentatively titled All She Ever Wanted.  This week, I gave draft copies to beta readers. This is the first time I’ve put my novel in front of readers who know nothing of the story and who I trust will give honest feedback on how or if the story works, whether the characters have depth and are believable, how well I’ve established the setting of rural Iowa during WWI. 

While I wait the next month for my readers to read, I’m figuring out ways I can distract myself from my Chief Novel Worrier role and do something productive. One thing I’ll be doing is working on a one-page synopsis of the novel as well as the critical cover blurb. Both of these tasks will require research and study and no doubt the help of others who’ve walk this path.

Writing novels and nesting birds. There are just so many similarities to these experiences. Don’t you think?

Other Robin posts: A Bird’s Eye ViewAnd Then There Were Four