Friday, May 15, 2009

We Are Not Short of Robins

Yesterday I finished writing my syllabus for my summer Genetics class and I was heading off across campus to the copy place to get my syllabus copied. As I headed across our pretty park-like campus with it’s winding paths, rolling hills, grass, flowers, and trees I saw a large handsome crow sitting on a tree looking intent and intense. I wished I had my camera on me for his sleek and wicked look contrasting to the lovely spring day. Suddenly he swooped forward towards a set of low bushes with a small tree growing up from them, lunged in and flew off with a nest in his talons. A crowd of robins and sparrows chased him as he flew away.

"You evil thing!" I exclaimed and chased after him myself. He flew up to a lower branch in a taller tree and started to peck through what he had grabbed. When I got under the tree, waving my arms at him, he flew off again and something solid fell from his grip, down into the pachysandra.

I went over to the ground cover in the area where the object had fallen, imagining something horrible. I looked and looked and looked, and finally, there was a baby bird, a half-grown robin, already fledging, with rust orange feathers on his belly.

I headed back to the bio office with the syllabus and copy order form clutched under an arm and the little robin cradled in my hands. He was solid, chubby, very warm, and looking at me with a worried brown eye. He had a little spot of blood on the back of his skull and perhaps a scrape near a wing, small looking wounds. I talked to several people and the suggestion was to see if there was any nest left to put him back in, or to raise him myself. I raised a robin once as a child. It was a long processed, he fledged, I taught him to fly, and then he ate a slug pellet, sickened, and died. I did not want to hand raise another. I went back to the area and saw a female Robin in the little tree looking at me worriedly. I looked and looked and finally found a nest. It is an old, deep, and well built nest. I imagine that the crow had only taken the top layer. I put the baby back in it, then went on to get my syllabus copied.

On the way back I worried. What about the damage from the crow's talons or beak? Would the little bird get infected and die? So, I went back to the office and got a little packet of triple antibiotic ointment, went back out to the nest. I saw that at least one of the parents had been in the nest judging by a fresh adult dropping on the outside of the nest, took out the baby and put some ointment on his head wound. and placed him back in his nest. His mother chirped at me in concern from a nearby branch.

Today I went to the nest camera in hand to see if I could get a picture of the little guy. As I approached the tree my heart fell, no parent flew out of the nest, no parent sat on a higher branch to glare at me. The little nest was empty. Crows are smart, and they are nest predators. He probably came back around and snatched the chubby baby in the evening after I left.

I am sad about it. I felt like I had done a small creature a good deed. It has been a bad couple of weeks in cat-land, a good friend is facing a truly difficult time. Another has been setting tests for our relationship that confuse and sadden me. The baby robin was a small pleasure yesterday.

Crows aren’t evil. This is how they live. The world is not short of robins. The world is a tough place for most creatures. We humans in Industrialized countries forget that. Just 200 years ago most children did not live to adulthood, most adults did not live long lives.

How lucky we are. How obsessed with trivialities we can be.