Sunday, May 16, 2010

Winged Hope Revisited

It's been nearly two weeks since I wrote about the pair of robins who built a nest on our front porch. When we were away last week, I worried about them because of the cowbirds.

The day before we left for Vermont I noticed a pair of cowbirds in the trees near our front porch. My wife was impressed that I knew what they were and I looked them up on the Internet to make sure I was right. I knew from experience that cowbirds will lay their eggs in another bird's nest and I was afraid these two were up to no good.

What I learned from Google is that that practice--laying eggs in another's nest--is called being a 'brood parasite'. What an apt but strange description. It seems the cowbird got its name because they tend to eat the insects that gather on cattle. And since cattle used to be driven to market, the birds learned to follow them. Cowbirds don't stay put and rely on other birds to hatch and raise their young. A really strange practice. And they stick around only long enough to see if the mother bird throws the strange eggs out of the nest. If they do, the cowbirds destroy the nest and the real nesting bird's eggs. Like I said, weird.

But when we got back, the nest was still there and the mama Robin was sitting tight. Before we left she would fly over to the nearest tree when we came out or went in the door. Now she sits stoically and unmoving. And the male, who is a really large bird, sits on a nearby tree and keeps watch. When we're out on the back deck, he fly into the low branches of the trees back there and watch us for a while. Sometimes he sings and sometimes not. It's like he's evaluating if we are in any way a danger.

There must be eggs because she is so committed to the nest. She turns her head and watches us as we come and go, but never flies now.

Now that the cowbird crisis has passed--the pair of them are probably somewhere with some cows--I'm worried about the babies. I may put cushions under the nest in case they fall out. And if they do, can we put them back? Is it the truth or an old wive's tale (why are there no old husband's tales?) that human touch will taint the baby birds and the mother won't feed them anymore? Should I get some falconer gloves or something?

Having robins to worry about is almost a full time job....

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.