Pat Herbert – July 20, 2013
My childhood bedroom was on the second floor of our little Cape Cod house. I had privacy, sure, but in those days there was no air conditioning in the summer and only the heat that would rise up the stairs in the winter. One of my favorite memories of being on the second floor was that one year I literally had a birds-eye view of the new robin’s nest in the oak tree just outside my window. Every day I would watch its progress.
After Mamma and Papa Robin built their neat little nest and made sure it was nestled securely in the tree, Mamma Robin would sit on it for hours and hours. There was always one parent standing guard to scare off any intruders. Such dedication! During one exceptionally strong thunderstorm, I was touched to see the Mamma Robin sitting on top of the nest with her wings fully extended totally protecting her young from the pelting rain. I could see her blinking from the downpour, but she never moved. The picture of this Mamma Robin has stayed with me for over 50 years. To me, this was the epitome of motherhood; protecting your children at all costs and inconveniences to yourself.
She was diligent in all her motherly duties. Those scrawny little birds had beaks seemingly bigger than the baby bird itself. But after many tiresome trips back and forth to feed the babies scrumptious bugs and such, those little birds took flight. I witnessed the last bird leave the nest. Mamma and Papa were nearby encouraging their last offspring to take flight. He wasn’t too sure. It was awfully scary. But with the encouragement from his parents, he tentatively took flight. How exciting for them and for me to be able to witness their proud moment.
This being my first summer in my new house, you can imagine how pleased I was that a robin was trying to make a nest. Oddly, it was on my deck under the hanging vines of one of my planters. Despite warnings from friends and neighbors that I would be sorry if I didn’t remove the nest, I was willing to give up part of my deck to witness the whole process once again.
Things were quiet for a while. Her protectiveness started kicking in once two little blue eggs appeared in the nest. Now she would fly into nearby trees where she and Papa would scold me. Once the babies were born, the whole deck became off limits. If I had to water my plants, I had to gently sway a small broom over my head because both Mamma and Papa would dive-bomb me several times while “yelling” at me. They never hit me, but they flew close enough that I could feel the breeze of their wings. It made me smile, but it also made me cringe. It was nice, though, to witness Mamma Robin feeding the babies and Papa standing sentry. I figured if I wanted to use my grill, I would have to use an umbrella. My neighbors certainly would’ve thought I’d “lost it.”
The babies were just getting downy feathers. Their little beaks were always searching for food. Mamma and Papa were the typically stressed-out new parents trying to keep them fed. Suddenly I heard a commotion and saw Mamma and Papa swooping onto the deck and making quite a racket. I looked out and shockingly saw a hawk sitting on the planter. I threw open the sliding doors and screamed at the hawk. He flew into the woods with the robins chasing behind and screaming at him.
I slowly peaked into the nest and saw that the babies were gone. My heart just sank.
The parents didn’t know what to do. They flew back and forth in my yard so many times looking for and calling their babies. They peeped and called from the trees. They hopped in and out of the nest; no doubt hoping it was all a bad dream and their babies were still there. They sat on my railing; perhaps hoping for their return, until the reality of their loss sank in. They did all the right things, but they still lost their babies.
They’re back into the woods now.
My heart broke for those little birds—-for I understood their pain in a way they could never know.