Mother’s Day for a Robin

Happy Mother’s Day! The blog post for today is a little unusual because it’s about a “mother” robin who built a nest on April 9, 2019 and is still sitting on it as of today. It’s unusual because she’s been sitting on the nest for at least a couple of weeks now even though there have been no eggs in it. We can’t figure why she’s sitting on an empty nest.

Things got started relatively well. In fact, after building the usual sloppy nest, the mother robin laid two eggs in it. That was the largest number of eggs we ever saw. The number went down from two eggs to one to none over a couple of days or so.

“And then there were none.” I never read Agatha Christie’s book by the same name or saw the TV miniseries on which it was based several years ago. On the other hand, death played a role—a natural one—in the case of the very devoted mother robin.

The robins built their nest in an evergreen tree right below one of our windows. What was nice about that was that I never had to creep up on them, see them thunder out of the tree, mess with the branches around the nest, snap photos—and leave a scent trail for large predatory birds.

Now, speaking of predatory birds…I never saw any of them this time. I know last year I heard a heavy flapping noise (like bedsheets on a clothesline) outside of my office window and opened the blinds just in time to see a huge crow or turkey vulture take off from our front yard tree. Its beak was full of house finch nestlings. I swore I would never again engage in monitoring bird nests in that way.

This time there was only circumstantial evidence of nest robbery. My wife saw broken egg shells on the ground under the tree but it’s not clear exactly when she saw that.

But mother robin still sits on the nest. I have not been able to find any information about this behavior in nesting birds.

It’s not that birds never display odd nesting behavior. One of E.B. White’s essays, “Mr. Forbush’s Friends,” published in the Essays of E.B. White (White, E. B. (1977). Essays of E.B. White. New York [etc.: Harper and Row), describes a great number of these peculiar behaviors. One quote: “Had pair of Carolina wrens build nest in basket containing sticks of dynamite. No untoward results.”

I did wonder why our mother robin built a nest so visible from the sky. That was as bad as building a nest in a basket of dynamite. I know we have a tendency to anthropomorphize animal behavior, but I’m having trouble explaining this mother robin’s persistence in sitting on an empty nest. There are no new eggs; yet she acts as if eggs are there. Is she grieving? Is she hallucinating? How long will this go on?

Maybe some of you know what this is all about and I welcome your comments. Until then, it looks like for this robin, Mother’s Day is endless.

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