For the Birds Radio Program: Angela Maltese's Robin Story (Robin Drama, Part II)
This week I’ve been watching a couple of neighborhood robins feeding fledglings. The parents being endlessly pestered by hungry babies are both males—it’s the father robin who mostly feeds and educates chicks after they leave the nest. This way the mother can spend her time restoring the old nest or building a new one and laying a new batch of eggs.
On July 1, I entered into a correspondence with Angela Maltese from Thunder Bay. She had a sad story to recount:
I have a robin’s nest (second brood) under our eaves. The first brood was successful. “Mother Robin” has been incubating the second brood since June 28, 2019 … A male “Baby Robin” (from her first brood) often flies up to the nest to join its Mother Robin.
Sometimes he is begging for food, other times he just seems to be there for company. I have even seen the Mother Robin fly from the nest, and the Baby Robin stays behind with the nest. The Mom flies away for a few minutes, presumably to find food for him, then returns to her nest to feed him, and resumes incubating. The nest is under our eaves so I can watch closely from our window. Is this behavior normal? This male Baby Robin is very attached to his Mother Robin.
This is not normal behavior, but Angela explains why in the next paragraph:
I haven’t seen the male Dad Robin since Mom started incubating a couple days ago. Is this normal? … I am around gardening and working in the dining room, so I think I would have noticed the male, although my husband thought he saw a male robin on our back fence on June 29. … We are having hot weather. I would have expected the male to at least stop by our bird bath to wash and drink (we do, however, have other water sources in our neighborhood – a nearby marsh).
I haven’t really seen the other baby robins around as much as this particular youngster… I know … our nesting robins had at least 3 babies (because of the positioning of where the nest was I couldn’t actually see how many eggs hatched and how many fledged) but based on seeing fledglings in our yard, I am guessing there were at least 3 fledglings from the first brood. I did see the last fledgling leave the nest. Perhaps this is the male Baby Robin who is so attached to his mom? I am wondering if something has happened to the male robin, or is his absence normal for a second brood.
When robins successfully bring off a brood to fledging, the male continues feeding and educating them as the mother makes nest repairs or builds a new one. By the end of the three weeks or so that it takes for her to ready the nest, lay new eggs, and incubate them until they hatch, the earlier brood will become fully independent.
Now both parents can focus on the new nestlings as soon as they hatch. The only reason a male would disappear at this critical time is if he was killed—sometimes accidents take a toll, but this time of year, more adults are killed by predators. The mother may be able to raise some or all of the pairs new eggs or nestlings without him, and if the fledglings are in good shape to start with, some or all may survive without his care. Without leg bands or some other way of identifying robins, it’s tricky to know whether young ones belong to this pair or a neighboring one. Birds do keep their secrets, but even in a sad scenario, it can be rewarding teasing out likely explanations for what we see.