When a robin built a nest in a small tree next to our front porch, I felt honored. When she laid four bright blue eggs, I felt a kinship with my bird sister. I set up a stool inside so I could watch her through the window panel in our front door.
Lady Bird and her mate tended to the eggs with steadfast devotion. How endearing that they built the nest at a tenuous angle – probably first time home builders! We sighed when they swapped egg-sitting duties. How adorbs!
Then we noticed one egg was moved to a branch outside of the nest. “Maybe she knew she couldn’t handle four,” Hubby said. I sat on my stool, contemplating Lady Bird’s choices, to include abortion, adoption, feminism, patriarchy, financial stability, and home ownership.
The three remaining eggs hatched into horrific, pink-skinned, fragile-boned monsters. Oh, how I loved them.
The next day, two birds remained in what was quickly becoming Lady Bird’s Nest of Doom. We watched as Bird Hubby (aka Darth Vader) fed the remaining two. By the following evening, we noticed that one nestling was suddenly much bigger than his brother. I suspected a favorite had been chosen.
My son was the first to discover that Runt was missing. Our eyes followed the fluff stuck in branches all the way to the ground. Though helpless, Runt didn’t appear to be injured. The trusty Internet informed me that robins do not typically eject nestlings. Furthermore, without a sense of smell, they will not abandon an egg or nest that has been tampered with by humans.
So we chalked the fall up to a dreadful accident, though big brother Cain seemed to be taking up more than his fair share of the nest. I scooped Runt up and slid him in beside Cain, returning to my stool to contemplate favoritism, bullies, infanticide, survival of the fittest, extinction, and the ethics of interfering with nature. Also the idea that I need to pursue more writing assignments.
I like to think Lady Bird felt a chill down her feathers when she saw Runt back in the nest, something similar to the scene in “Fatal Attraction” when cheater-cheater-pumpkin-eater Michael Douglas thinks that Glenn Close is dead in the bathtub. Surprise! She is so not dead- just like your son Runt!
When Runt found himself at the bottom of the tree for the second time, I called a wildlife rehabilitation hotline – which is an actual thing – and spoke about options with an animal-lover named Jane.
I returned the bird to the nest again and called my mom. She cared, but not nearly as much as Jane.
“What’s the lesson here, Mom?” I asked.
“Hmm. Let me get your father,” said the woman with an answer for everything.
“I’m here to solve problems,” Dad said.
“But this is an emotional problem, Brian,” Mom clarified.
I shared Runt’s story and asked if the message I should glean is that you never know when your parents might try to off you. Or could it be simply that life’s a bitch and then you die?
No, he told me. The lesson is not to let robins nest on your front porch.
The next morning, we awoke to find that Runt had taken his final “fall” from the nest.
Now it’s just the smug three of them: Lady, Darth, and Cain, doing what they do – Lady barfing into Cain’s beak, Darth pecking in our grass, and Lady settling her feather’s over Cain’s body. I’ve returned the stool to the breakfast bar; the magic is gone for me.
My son, a Disney consumer who is comfortable with both murderous/absent family members and “The Lion King”, says we shouldn’t feel sad. It’s just the circle of life.