For as long as I can remember, I have watched birds, read about birds, and watched documentaries about birds. I made my first bird list when I was twelve as I spent hours poring over a 1982 edition of the Reader’s Digest North American Wildlife guide. I still own that book, though it’s looking rather rough nowadays.
I still have that first list I made of birds I identified around my house: “Birds on our land.”
Up-close robin study.
In all my years of studying, I’ve never learned as much as I have observing these robins the past few weeks as they’ve built their nest, laid eggs, hatched, and as the pair has been feeding their four babies.
We’ve found so much information on robins in the Handbook of Nature Study. I read parts of it aloud to the family, and we were amazed that each baby bird can eat 68 earthworms a day! Can you imagine how much work that is for the parents? We have watched them taking turns, coming back and forth stuffing those little orange mouths all day long.
I knew that some birds keep their nests clean by taking away the babies’ droppings. House finches (that built on our front door wreath a few years ago) do NOT and it’s a disgusting mess after a few weeks! But robins do carry the droppings away. They must’ve done this with the egg shells, too, since we never saw them.
I took the photo below when the babies were about four days old. You can see Daddy Robin giving me the evil eye for getting close.
About one week after they hatched, the babies’ eyes had opened (this happens between day 6 and 8, according to the HNS book), and they had developed pin feathers, which are the beginnings of real feathers that replace the downy fuzz:
Notice the one on the far right: its eyes are not open and it’s head has no feathers. It’s also smaller than the others. We were concerned about what we considered the “runt” of the brood. I think it hatched a day later than the others, and it is clearly developmentally behind the others.
I said before that this was an up-close nature study because it’s right on our back porch, but today it got even more up-close!
When I went out to water our veggie garden this morning, I noticed a baby bird on the ground! I feared it was dead, but when I picked it up, it started moving, raised it’s head, and opened it’s mouth wanting me to feed it. I took that as a good sign. But I’m not a mama robin, and I can’t quickly find worms. I thought at first that it was our little runt, but it had feathers on it’s head and it’s eyes were open.
So I handed the baby to Kathryn, and ran inside to quickly research what to do. Was that old saying about the adults ignoring them if they’ve been touched actually true?!? According to what I found, it is only a myth, as birds have very little sense of smell and their instinct to care for their babies is very strong. (See this link on “Wild Bird Watching” about caring for baby birds.)
Back to the nest, baby robin!
Before I climbed up the ladder (thankfully already nearby) to place the baby back in the nest, I took one quick photo. Kathryn has been saying how cute they are and how she wished she could hold one, but didn’t think it would happen. We didn’t want a baby to fall out, but I wasn’t missing this rare chance to snap a photo.
We said a little prayer for the baby bird, and I reminded myself (out loud) that God watches even the little birds, and He’d do what was best — whatever that is. I know that in the great big scheme of things, one baby robin living or dying doesn’t matter much. But I care, and my girls care. So we were rooting for that little baby to make it.
Once I’d wedged the baby back in the nest, I climbed down and we went inside to watch through the window. Almost immediately, mama robin, and then daddy robin came to feed the babies. No worries about the babies being rejected because we’d touched one.
But they were so crammed in there, and every few minutes they’d flap and stretch and almost fall out. We spent the rest of the day as nervous robin-watchers. We only saw three babies, but we wondered:
What had happened to the fourth baby robin?
I feared the fourth was dead and under the others. After looking at photos again, I knew it wasn’t the one I’d returned to the nest because that one had feathers. I worried: what if it began to decay and made the remaining three sick? Would they push it’s body out of the nest?
So we kept watching.
That evening, I saw the mama come to feed the babies, and then begin pulling on something. She pulled the dead baby out of the nest, and with it in her beak, she flew across the yard to dispose of it away from the nest. I’m assuming this is so it would not attract predators like it would if it was directly below the nest. I was amazed she carried it so far when it was so heavy compared to her size.
I peeked at it and verified that it was the runt baby, and not the one that had fallen out that morning.
The loss of one of our babies is sad, but we are learning so very much — and we continue to root for the remaining three and will keep watching as they should start learning to fly next week.
(Read Part 1 of our Robin Nature Study here: Robin Nest & Babies)