That One May Live
The death of one baby robin may have saved the life of another.
I was working on an indoor carpentry project in the neighborhood yesterday. When I went to open a window, I saw a newly-fledged robin floating, dead, in a barrel of rainwater. The little bird looked very dead, but I promptly fished it out of the water just in case. It was stiff, so I took a little comfort in knowing it probably died before I had arrived, and even if I had been more observant, there was nothing I could have done.
I examined a nearby rhododendron, looking for the nest, but instead found another baby robin silently gripping a twig. I spotted what must have been the parents nervously watching the area and busily looking for worms.
I imagined the pathetic scene that must have ensued as this baby, possibly on its maiden flight, clumsily tried to land on the edge of the trash can, but tumbled into the water instead. The water level was about four or five inches below the rim of the barrel, so there was no way it could have climbed the wall of slippery plastic. It’s hard not to anthropomorphize as I picture the frantic parents watching the baby struggle to climb from the water and the confused sibling looking on in fright. What did they feel as the thrashing gradually weakened until, finally, the little bird could no longer hold its head out of the water.
Naturally, the homeowner could not have foreseen how a neglected trash can could become a deathtrap. She had no objection when I told her what happened and asked permission to empty the water. I neglected to tell her how lucky we were that it was a fledgling robin and not her toddler that had plunged into the barrel.
My thoughts were on robins when I got home so I decided to check in on the ones nesting in my backyard. The nest was empty and I saw one of the adults perched overhead, its beak full of worms. I went around to the back of the shed to see if I could observe the adults feeding the hungry youngsters. I heard the loud chirp of a fledgling, but immediately knew tragedy was stalking one of my babies. The chirp was echoing from inside the shed.
The nest was built on the roof of a wren box that is mounted up under the eaves of the shed. The space above the wall and between the rafters is open, so when this baby clambered out of the nest, it apparently fell into the shed rather than out into the open. The bird would surly die if it was not reunited with its parents. I propped the shed door open and eventually found the baby perched, all head and legs, in a jumble of bicycle parts. As I reached for it, it flew out the door, evidently unharmed by its mishap. The ever-watchful parents saw the whole thing and the father was with his offspring in a moment.
I spent the next half hour watching through the kitchen window as the male urgently collected worms to bring to the newly-liberated baby. The female, although she did check in from time to time, seemed preoccupied with the rest of the little family. As I watched this miraculous striving against the odds presented by all the hazards out there for young birds, I found it amazing that they survive at all. While I was saddened by the drowning of one fledgling, I took some comfort in knowing that the death of one bird had lead to the rescue of another.