Sweet sleepy sounds are coming from the ceiling fan in our kitchen, and all is well. Perched on top of a fan blade is a three-week-old robin fledgling, trying to sleep. We tiptoe in and out of the kitchen and try to leave the lights off. We are just so glad that the little fellow is here and not outside in the cool drippy night.
Last night was different. When Robby took the little guy on his shoulder into the front yard, as he often has when walking among the wildflowers, he didn’t think about how late in the evening it was, or how strong the urge to fly up and roost might be, even to a bird who has barely learned to use his wings, a bird whose tail is still not much more than an inch long.
Suddenly the robin flew up into the biggest oak tree in our yard. He found a perch about 20 feet high and made himself comfortable. He looked down at us, his frantic foster parents, with a degree of fondness, and began to cheep good night in his little robin voice. But no matter how we called and coaxed, the bird did not budge.
We felt like parents whose teen hadn’t come home at curfew time. We knew this baby had no experience finding its food, even if he was obviously a pretty good flyer. What if an owl or a hawk or a snake found him?
It was a long night. Then, Robby woke me at 5:45. “I hear the bird,” he said. “I’ll see if he’ll come to me now.” Next thing I knew, there was a crash landing at my bedroom window, as the robin swooped toward him out of the tree. Peeking out the blinds, I saw Robby finally cradling the hungry bird between his two hands and heading for the back door, where we smothered him with coos, baby talk, and all the breakfast he could eat.
So all is well, and it’s the same old story in this household. Almost every spring, at nesting time, a tiny naked creature that so recently had been an egg, falls to us to nurture—literally falls! There have been mockingbirds and crows as well as robins.
Two weeks ago, Robby brought this tiny robin home from the Virginia Living Museum, where someone had brought it for help. Years ago, Robby and our-then-teenager Anje took a course on rehabilitating baby birds, and so we qualify as a rehab home.
This one had very few feathers, but a hearty appetite and a musical voice. We began feeding him every 30 minutes or so until we went to bed each night. You could almost see him grow, as the feathers began to cover his naked skin and his wings lengthened with every luxurious stretch.
When we had to attend a funeral in Arlington a couple of days after taking the bird, we were honored to have the little thing babysat by none other than George Matthews, who is in charge of all the living things at the Virginia Living Museum. What a lucky bird!
In the morning, I will put him outside the back door where he can run under the beautyberry and boxwood, and occasionally fly up into the crape myrtle tree or swish his feathers in our little fountain. He can peck at little things that crawl. He can learn to be a robin.
There are three little boys coming to Grandma Week soon who are hope, hope hoping that the bird will still be here as their summer companion. We shall see. There is nothing like the sweet, transient dependency of such a beautiful wisp of nature, and nothing more nerve-wracking than its transition to life on its own.