American Robins: The Heroes We All Need

It was a common story around my house growing up, the story of Mom, Dad, and Rob. I’m sure I’ll get some of these details wrong, but according to my memory of the story, Mom and Dad found Rob at the base of the big old spruce tree that used to grow in the middle of our yard, an American Robin fledgling who had not yet learned to fly and fallen out of the nest. Being the bleeding hearts that they are (I come by it honestly), they took in the little bird and sheltered him in a nest made of a shoebox and pillowcases, giving him a little bowl of water, and feeding him seeds gently out of their hands.

Miraculously, Rob grew strong and lively, and was able to return to the outdoors just a short while after my parents “rescued” him. My Mom swears that Rob had a particular chirp, and that she could tell when he was hanging out with her while she worked the garden under the same old spruce that had once been his home.

I remember my wonder at that story and my own attempts as a child to save a variety of animals- including a set of raccoons- that did not work out well. I remember when we had a set of American Robins build a nest underneath our porch. I was eight or so, and every day that Spring I would gently slide open the door, tip-toe out in my stockings onto the the cold, wide planks of the deck, and, silently as I could, lean down on my hands and knees to squint with one eyeball into the crack that sat right above the nest. I saw the the cyan eggs, glimpsed the mama bird on the nest, and was dazzled by the tiny, sightless little birds as they huddled and shivered inside the nest, waiting for the mother to come feed them again.

I’ve been to enough places across North America by now to know that the American Robin is possibly the most ubiquitous bird we have. I’ve seen them hopping across five-foot square lawns in Chicago and chirping in the Whitebark Pines at 8,000 feet. I’ve seen a fledgeling, not yet cleared of its spots, frozen on a branch at eye level in Montana, and see them fluffed up, comically round against the freezing, damp cold of New England winters.

American Robins are far from needing much protection, they are so common in their population- but their commonality, or, as I like to say it, their adaptability is what I think makes them so fascinating. I love this description from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

“American Robins are industrious and authoritarian birds that bound across lawns or stand erect, beak tilted upward, to survey their environs.”

What an apt telling. According to the Audubon Society, “…because [Robins are] so familiar and occurs around places where humans live, [they] sometimes serves as an early warning of environmental problems, such as overuse of pesticides.”

These little thrushes, in my small opinion, represent some of the best parts of founding American values. They are industrious, adaptable, bringers of sunrise, and harbingers of warning against our own poisoning. But on a happier note, Robins are the birds that first made me fall in love with wilderness. To this day, when I hear the tell-tale chirp of Rob, I look up, find that striking orange breast, and smile at that little bird who is just as common and just as significant as each of us.



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