For the Birds Radio Program: Angela Maltese's Robin Story, continued (Robin Drama, Part III)
I’ve been corresponding for a few days with Angela Maltese from Thunder Bay. While her female robin has been incubating eggs, her male disappeared while the fledglings from their first brood were still dependent. One young male in particular has been spending a lot of time with the mother robin. Angela’s been offering mealworms in a bowl, and the mother seems to be both eating some and feeding some to that fledgling. Mealworms are an excellent source of food for robins, especially when they’re raising young. When I’ve offered mealworms in summer, to ensure that they’re as nutritious as possible for baby birds, I keep them in a medium of oatmeal and a powdered baby parrot hand-feeding mixture called Kaytee Exact, which I buy in a petshop.
Angela’s been keeping a journal to record her day-to-day observations of this robin family. This is an excellent thing to do—it helps us keep a lot of important details straight, and makes a wonderful keepsake in the murky future. With digital photography so easy now, we can add photos to make the journal even more meaningful.
Some of her journal entries are very interesting. On June 25, she wrote:
Baby robin hit our dining room window at about 10:30 am. He /she flew away immediately. That is, did not end up on ground. But still, I am worried. Up to 50% of all bird window collisions end up in death, even after the bird flies away. Some are killed by predators shortly after hitting window as they are stunned from hitting window. I am soooooo sad.
She described the adult male chasing the adult female—this was during what had to be the time when the female was laying eggs, which is when the pair mates fairly often. The mother doesn’t start serious incubation until she’s laid the last or the penultimate egg—until then, she shares fledgling duty with the father.
The very last time Angela saw the male on June 28, he was in a standoff with a grackle. After the two flew off, the male never returned. It’s possible that a crow or hawk flew in to see what the bickering was about—they often manage to grab a bird while it’s focused on something else.
It’s fascinating seeing firsthand how the female robin must divide her attention between the pokiest fledgling and the eggs she must incubate, but in addition to feeding her curiosity, Angela feels bereft at the loss of her treasured male.
I know that feeling of connection I get whenever I pay close attention to individual birds, from the nestling Anhingas that Russ and I saw several times this spring in the Everglades to some of my individual chickadees. Angela noted that after studying the little family, “I almost feel like I hatched those eggs, too!” As far as getting emotionally bonded, she noted:
My husband, who was an avid bird watcher with his parents growing up, told me that he deliberately kept his distance from our family of robins as he knew things like this happen. But it just doesn’t work that way with me. Even though I’ve never been an avid bird watcher until now, I did feel blessed that they chose our backyard.
In her last email to me, she said, “I have to say… this little family of robins has taught me so many life lessons. In many ways it parallels our own “human” lives. Courage, perseverance, and love.”
I’m sad that Angela’s first experience with in-depth birdwatching involves a tragedy, interesting as it may be to see whether the three fledglings survive and how the new nestlings will fare. She did a lot of research online and put it to practical use, working out that the more brightly colored fledglings were males, and that the fluffier one hatched a day or so after the others. I hope her birds live long and prosper. I’m thrilled to welcome her into the birding community.