Robin Comes Around


It was full Spring and most of the raw times were past. Eagle was spiraling up the mid-day thermals, and Woodpecker was rapping the trees for bugs. Migrants were passing through, skeins of geese honking across the Bay, flocks of blackbirds and grackles chittered and twittered as they whirled and lit, hopped and foraged, then jumped and whirled again. Tom Turkey was beating his breast and fanning his tail. Woodcock was whistling his wings at the girls, as he swooped and meeped. Cardinal and Oreole were flashing their colors. The doves were cooing. It was a busy time.


Robin ignored all the Spring hoopla. He’d been one of the few birds to winter-over by the Cathance. When all the other robins had flocked and flitted off to warm and sunny places, Robin had eschewed the enticements of winter worms and abundant bugs. He’d teamed up with a cadre of local heavies and spent the frozen months living off rose hips and choke cherries and the like. Come Spring Robin was a leaner bird, but still fat and sassy compared to the wrung-out red-breasts now trooping in. But Robin was unmoved by all the green and budding excitement.

Not that he wasn’t stirred by the worm rise. What robin wouldn’t feel his toes tingle when the fat ones began to poke up? But it was all sort of old hat. Robin had hopped and fluttered over the same acreage all year. He knew where the best sheltering cedars hid in their dells, and which patch of meadow would be the first to thaw. Robin was unimpressed that the other natives were out puttering in their shirtsleeves on sunny afternoons, and the River Rats were busy mending their boats. Truth to tell, Robin still had a bit of the winter blues. Yeah, yeah – it was Spring again – but what was the point of it all?

“Why bother?” Robin muttered.

Robin began to show a bit of interest when the frost went out of the neighbors’ garden plots and the avid gardeners started spading up their beds. There certainly were some juicy nightcrawlers in that fertile loam. But even a hearty feed didn’t assuage Robin’s Weltschmerz.

“Why bother?” Robin muttered.

Robin went through the motions, however. Hop and spy. Hop and spy. Grab and gobble. Robin flew around his bounds, marking a territory full of good feed, good shelter, good promise of summer lodging. But he was just too jaded to care.

“Why bother?” muttered Robin.

The noisy jollity of the migrant birds was a constant irritant to Robin. The gabble of passing ducks, all the outlandish calls of arriviste songbirds, even the new spring tunes of his winter compatriots, the chickadees, galled him. Robin tried to tune out the happy cacophony, but everyone insisted on harping on. “Spring! Spring!” Gaah.

“Why bother?” Robin muttered.

Now Robins flock up to travel, or for mutual protection in the winter, and Robin had ganged up with the local crowd when the snow flew. Half a dozen fat red-breasts had spent the season hanging together, and they’d worn out every topic of conversation. If Robin never nattered with another bird it might be too soon. He’d had words with the Pigeons wintering under the Bowdoinham bridge, and told tales with the chattering Chickadees. He and his buds had discussed the damned Owls with their midnight wakeup hooting, the sneaky foxes, and how the winterberries tasted especially tart this winter. But now it was Spring dispersal time, and frankly, Robin was glad to be away from the constant jabbering. Robin kept to himself on his chosen turf.

“Why bother?” Robin muttered.

He couldn’t get away from the exuberant invasion, though. Every day another flock of exalting exiles came winging in, and when the wind was southerly it was like Normandy Beach. Even if he really didn’t care, Robin made sure the incoming males stayed clear of his domain. The last thing he wanted was company. Especially those young males with all their strut and bluster. Whenever a scrawny young red-breast would come hopping across his turf, Robin would fly out and harry the punk away. Even so, Robin wondered what possessed him.

“Why bother?” Robin muttered.

It was after a chilly two-day downpour, when the whole world steamed and glistened in the morning sunlight, that the last flock of migrant robins appeared on Robin’s doorstep. Wet and bedraggled from a bruising ride on the storm, and wan with fasting, the new robins started greedily yanking half-drowned worms out of Robin’s favorite patch. He couldn’t summon the energy to dispute the territory with them.

“Why bother?” Robin muttered.

But he did hop out into the sunshine, just to make a showing. Plump and glowing with health, Robin was the image of elegance, his big red breast radiant. Even without defiance, his unhurried insouciance was rather intimidating to the new birds. They gave him plenty of berth. But one young female, still dizzy and disoriented by her exertions, and preoccupied with tugging on a huge nightcrawler, found herself cut off from the flock. Robin was hopping straight toward her.

My, he was a vision of masculine robinhood. It made her shiver, and her tail feathers flicked open and closed, partly in fear, but partly in excitement. An excitement she didn’t quite understand. Robin had intended to shoo-off this scrawny interloper who didn’t give him room, but he, too, was having feelings he didn’t understand. Robin hopped up to the dappled young bird, but found he was speechless.

She found her voice first.

“This is a lovely spot, is it yours?” she asked politely, with her head down, and her voice trembling. When he just stood there staring at her, she went on. “I especially like the flowers.”

Robin looked around in confusion. Flowers? He hadn’t noticed flowers. Now he saw there were, indeed, daffodils just opening, tulips and hydrangeas peeping, and the grass was all green and glistening after the rain.

“Uh, yes.” Robin finally managed to peep gruffly. Robin meant to sound unfriendly and discourage this invasion, but he couldn’t fine the right tone. In fact, he couldn’t find anything else to say. His emotions were in a turmoil.

The shy robin bowed her head, as though he had said something very intelligent, and remarked: “Your worms are ever so nice.”

Robin was utterly flabbergasted. He knew he should chase off this worm-stealing vagabond, who dared compliment his worms, the ones she was eating. But he simply couldn’t speak. His heart was in his throat. The white patches on her flicking tail, the way she fluttered her wings open, her dainty little hops – Robin was smitten.

Robin gasped, He shivered out his feathers, and hopped away from her as quick as he could. He tried to clear his head.

She thought, “What a nice big robin he is, and how kind not to chase me off.”

For the rest of the day Robin stayed near the visitors and kept his eye on the young female. She hardly dared look at him, but whenever she glanced his way Robin straightened up involuntarily, and he’d strut a little. The other robins noticed all this, of course, and snickered among themselves, but Robin and the young female were oblivious to the chaffer.

That night the migrant flock camped out in Robin’s maple trees, but he was too preoccupied with the strange emotions flooding him to notice the other birds – or bother to chase them off. Robin stayed awake all night thinking about the shy young bird. By morning he realized he was terrified she would fly off with her flock and he might never see her again.

At cock-crow Robin was up preening himself, practicing little speeches in the window of the nearest house. Try as he might Robin couldn’t find the right words. He didn’t want to sound like an idiot, or too craven, but he didn’t want to frighten her off by being too bold, either. Should he tell her about the cosy nest he’d built in the trellis, or was that too forward? By the time the Sun was up Robin was in a complete conniption. He could hardly hop straight, and didn’t dare fly.

And there she was. Foraging in the grasses on his side of the flock, casting quick little looks his way. He could hear the flock leader making a head-count and discussing the day’s objectives. The flock was headed north and they were getting ready to take off. Robin was in a tizzy.

Suddenly he bounded across the lawn, grabbed a blooming daffodil, and ripped it up out of the ground. Then Robin strutted awkwardly up to the young female, and presented it to her.

The whole flock of robins started to laugh and chitter and make a fuss, but Robin couldn’t hear them. Nor could she. She bowed her head and blushed. Robin tried to make one of his speeches. Not a sound came out. The two birds stared at one another.

Finally Robin summoned up all his courage.

“Please stay?” He croaked.

She ducked her head and whispered, “Yes.”

All the robins cheered.

Which is why there is now a clutch of little blue eggs in that nest in the trellis, and why you must be very careful not to make a fool of yourself in the Spring.