Rockin’ Robin

I’ve been thinking about a robin. I might have fallen in love with this robin or maybe it’s my spirit animal (I’m not clear on the concept, really) or maybe I just subconsciously wish to be a robin?

I always did wish to fly. When I was five I started a “Flying Club”. The Flying Club, though open to all, was primarily composed of myself, my younger sister (then three) and the two neighbor girls who matched us in ages. We met each day in the front yard of our little house, and practiced jumping off a step stool, onto a blanket spread out in the grass, while wildly flapping our arms. I truly believed at that age that with enough practice one of those times I would take off through the air like a bird.

Eventually, one of the Flying Club members (not me!) got hurt jumping off the stool and my parents banned us from using the step stool for Flying Club anymore.

I dream about flying a lot and it never involves flapping my arms. Somehow I can just think it and soar above the tree tops, and I am always sorry to wake up.

So maybe I just relate to that robin. Yeah, back to the robin, back to the beginning.

In October, we got a snowstorm and the temperatures plunged, just as we were preparing for a much needed fall vacation at the lake. We tried not to be discouraged. It would still be nice to be at the lake, we said, and we can still fish and ATV and hike, we just have to dress warmer.

Well. It snowed every single day, and we did not see the sun for eight days straight. If it wasn’t snowing, it was sleeting, and it was always windy.

On day one, I planted flower bulbs and those weird root things called rhizomes in the swamp out back. There was a dusting of snow, not ideal fall planting conditions, but I knew more snow was coming so it was now or never.

It snowed the next day, all day, which was pretty handy for seeing the deer tracks where they walked right up to those weird root things, dug them out and ate them. So much for that!

The snowstorm brought the porch sitting. We have a nice covered porch to sit on, no matter the weather. I had brought 100lbs of deluxe bird food, a couple gallons of shelled corn, all the black oiled sunflower seeds the chickadees and squirrels could eat and nine bells made of birdseed to hang in the tree in front of the porch. I do not mess around!

“Whenever people stop by they’re always like ‘wow you guys gotta a lotta birds around here’ and I’m like, yeah, it’s my wife,” J said.

I tell you what, if you have a stump you want to get rid of you just starting putting some quality birdseed on it. The critters will rip it to shreds for the seeds in no time.

It was while we were porch sitting in three layers of clothing and wrapped in quilts, that we met the little fox. And we did A LOT of bird watching.

There is a sort of hierarchy at the feeder spots. The chickadees are always swooping in and flying away with their seeds to eat them. Same goes for the nuthatches. The grosbeaks and juncos stay and chew those little round seeds that everyone else leaves behind. The grackles peck timidly around the edges. Everyone flies away when a Bluejay lands, they are pretty but rude. I once saw a bluejay come down on top of a sparrow, scaring it into dropping the peanut it had scored, then steal its nut and fly off.

But also bluejays pick apart wasps nests in places too high to reach and when they sound an alarm call, for an eagle or a fox or a false alarm, every bird flies from the ground to the safety of the trees. They are bullies, but they also protect the flock, all the flocks, not just their own.

Mammal trumps bird at the feeder, though, even the bluejays. The red squirrel charges the bluejays if they don’t fly off on their own, sometimes the squirrel just chases them for fun, because it can, and doesn’t even stop to eat.

Robins usually never come to the feeding spots, they can be found in the neighbors grassy, mowed and manicured lawn, plucking worms.

I watched the robin as it picked up snowy leaves with its beak and flung them, trying to find a good worming spot. I felt bad for the robin.

“Why aren’t you flying south?” I asked it.

It didn’t answer.

Eventually, robin started paying attention to the other birds who were enjoying the bountiful feast provided by yours truly. It hopped slowly, watching, towards the bird feeding log. It hung back, observing, before it quietly and softly hopped up to the log to eat a couple seeds.

In all my forty seven years I have never seen a robin at a bird feeder!

The robin was very polite. Even though it was much bigger than many of the other birds, it never scared them away or tried to prevent anyone else from eating. Whenever it approached the log, it waited for other birds to move before advancing any further.

The robin, I determined, did not know about the feeder hierarchy. It was clueless to social norms.

When the bluejay flew in, all the other birds flew away, except the robin. The robin just looked at the bluejay and held its ground. The bluejay, confused, looked at the robin. The robin picked up a seed and ate. The bluejay decided not to worry about the robin’s lack of fear, and went about its business.

The robin is the only bird I’ve ever seen eating with the bluejays.

And then came the squirrel. The squirrel chased all the birds away, including the robin. But the robin, unlike the other birds, came right back. Sat right next to the squirrel and kept eating. The squirrel, who would normally chase away a bird just because, let the robin be. The robin was quiet, unlike the bluejays, and it didn’t fight the squirrel for its food. The robin was naturally good at sharing.

Eventually one of the bluejays got jealous of the robin and came down practically on its head. The robin did not fly away, but it did puff up its wings and open its beak to silently berate the bluejay for being a bully. The bluejay gave up and ate with the robin.

I cut up some tiny chunks of ham and flung them around under the pines, the place the robin liked to look most for worms because there’s less snow there. It took a day for the robin to find one, and when it did find one it was frozen solid and hard to choke down.

After that I shred some pork roast until it was thin strings and flung those around instead.

As the days went on, the robin stayed polite. It approached the feeder quietly and timidly, and defended its right as a bird to be there by refusing to be scared off. Other birds, like the grackles, took note. Eventually they quit flying away when bluejays came in too. They were not calm and cool like the robin, who just blinked and them and resumed eating. The grackles kicked up a fuss back at the bluejay, scolding them for being rude before settling back in to eat.

All of a sudden, the squirrel and the grackles and the robin and the bluejays were all eating together on one stump. It was a historic moment!

There was something about that robin. It didn’t know to be afraid so it wasn’t. It didn’t know that there was a social hierarchy, so what had been status quo for years crumbled within days. It treated everybody, big or small with fur or feathers with respect, and expected the same in return. The robin was a role model for other birds.

It became a joke between J and I when we feel upset about something.

“Be the robin,” we say.

Back at home, I can’t stop thinking about the robin. About how in the absence of a lifetime of social rules it’s made it’s own, the most important being that every creature was as valuable and worthy as it was.

We went back to the lake four weeks later, to cover the camper and bring the ATV home, and of course there was not one flake of snow. Though we were only there for two hours, I put out the bird food I had brought.

The robin did not appear. I assume it finally flew south. I hope it comes back next year to remind us how to treat each other.

That robin is on to something.

Have a great weekend,


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