The first thing you have to do in order to raise a family is find someone with whom to make a family. According to my 3 minutes of research, robins may or may not mate for life. It seems more like they get themselves in the family way with another robin who lives in their community, and then the two robins set about building a home for the anticipated blue eggs that are bound to appear. *Side note below
Creating a good home is important. It has to be located near things you need, keep you safe from danger, provide shelter during inclement weather, be large enough to house growing babies, small enough to clean, and all these qualities should give it pretty good re-sale value when you decide to leave it after your babies have grown up and away.
We became aware that a robin family was moving into the neighborhood when a loud banging noise drew us away from a Nat’s game to peer out the front window. Our new neighbors were busy moving in, and our large window seemed to be directly in their flight path. Watching mom and dad robin swoop in from the sky, bounce off our window and land on the branch of a rhododendron bush was like watching a swimmer make a kick turn in a pool. It took this family the better part of a week to move in and arrange their furnishings before the nursery was filled with 4 perfect little eggs.
I love greeting new neighbors, so I made sure to come home with an almost-dearly-departed worm on my next dog walk, and put it on a leaf on the robin’s doorstep. Other neighbors visited too. The squirrel family was not welcomed with open arms, in fact mom and dad robin must have been in the air force because they put on quite a show of dive bombing those neighbors until they left.
Bucking traditional parenting roles, our robin neighbors created a pretty egalitarian household, and both mom and dad took turns being home with the eggs. While nesting, each robin parent seemed pretty content to be in the moment and the nest was a place of calm and quiet. Conversely, the surrounding yard was filled with activity as lots of robin parents from all over the yard dotted our lawn pecking for worms, grubs and sustenance to support the robin family.
Again, after some not-so-careful research, I learned that our neighborhood could expect some new peeps after about two weeks. Sure enough, the first born arrived right on time. Seeing Uno for the first time I was reminded of that song “the weather is here, I wish you were beautiful,” but of course every baby is beautiful in the eyes of its mother.
Apparently Mother Nature isn’t great at math because our 4 blue eggs resulted in 3 thumb-sized wriggling creatures that could only be described as butt naked ugly. It isn’t by accident that robin poop is bright white, because if it weren’t mama would have a hard time making a distinction between her poo and her kids.
Never fear, all kids go through an awkward phase, and that only lasted a few days for Uno, Dos and Tres. By the weekend, our robin babies were fluffy and causing their parents to quake every time one arrived with food. The biggest part of a 3-day-old bird is their mouth, and their yellow beaks and orange throats were transparent and bright against their home of brown twigs.
There was no mistaking when these babies were hungry, or whose job it was to feed them. Gag Alert: At this point you will reconsider any thoughts you may have had about wishing to be reincarnated as a bird. As with human households, the parents are not only responsible for feeding their young, but also for cleaning up after them. Robin parents have the timing of waste management down to a sick science. Parent brings a limp slimy treat to the babies, stuffs it down each of the baby’s throats, dipping it in and out until the meal has been divided amongst the kids. Soon after releasing the food to their young, the parent examines the opposite end of this food train and extracts a poop sack from the rear of the baby. When the nest is full, the parent flies away with the poop sacks – probably searching for a diaper genie. However, when the population of the nest decreases, the parent simply consumes the poop sack, then recycles it back into the mouth of the baby. Trust me – I watched it happen dozens of times from 3 feet away. I will never think of the phrase “Eat Shit” in the same way again.
Despite their flight similarities, I don’t think robin parents and helicopter parents have too much in common. I wish my hubby and I had watched a robin family the spring before we had our first born instead of reading all those books about parenting. Robins do it right. Robins build a stable foundation, attachment parent for the fragile first stages of life, and nurture and fill all their needs for their young as they grow. Then, as the babies develop, get stronger, and start to demand food at the top of their lungs a funny thing happens – mama and papa slowly create space around their little family. They start to spend more time in the branches above the nest, watching from a distance as the kids literally test out their legs and stretch their wings. The kids stick together in the nest and find comfort snuggled up with each other, but still step on each other to compete for the food mama brings them. The kids sleep a lot, poo in their nest, and start becoming very demanding. This is when Uno asserts those leadership qualities and decides that he doesn’t have to wait for his parents to feed him anymore, and he moved out to fend for himself. Dos soon followed. Who is left at home – Tres. The parents look ready to head to Del Boca Vista for a nice retirement, but Tres has no interest. Tres seems pretty happy with his UberEats deliveries and a cleaning lady. We are surprised that Tres has remained in the nest a full two days after their siblings left. Is there something wrong with Tres? Is Tres smaller, or weaker, or undermotivated? Or, is it just that every kid grows up at their own pace?
*Side Note: I guess robins didn’t get the memo about gender-reveal parties because all their kids have blue cribs. Does anyone else think the gender reveal fad has run its course, especially in light of our increasingly non-binary culture?