6 - SETTLING IN

At first we handled Robin minimally. He had come into the house involuntarily in the palm of Sam's hand, but if he was apprehensive, he didn't show it. Neither did he appear to mind being picked up when we cleaned his box. In fact, he seemed to like being nestled in a cupped hand. Thus, we took advantage of his good nature and began to hold him more and even started photographing him at various intervals. We were nervous about using flash bulbs — and didn't — as we gently manipulated him to record his anatomy.

JUNE 5. The great, wonderful bonus today is that Robin VOLUNTARILY "discovered" Sam's index finger and wouldn't let go! It was the clinching act. From then on we were helplessly enslaved by a little bird. Neither one of us would be the same again. Robin grasped our fingers with his toes and tiny claws — WHO could resist such a gesture? This voluntary touch from the pure and innocent melts the gruffest of us — we interpret it as affection, or at the very least, a show of friendship — we do not stop to question or analyze whether it is a natural reflex, or a function, or a necessary act. In Robin's case, maybe he instinctively hopped on the finger to flex his toes (which he did unceasingly) and then didn't quite know how to let go. Anyway, it has become a pleasurable daily habit. Soon, he found the tree limb, too, and abandoned the cereal bowl for good.

JUNE 6. The V-shaped bald spot on the crown of Robin's head is filling in with minuscule feathers, and his body feathers are becoming more evident; but his wings still look as if he were an advertisement for paint brushes. He is attached to dozens of tiny tufts of hair with white plastic handles! He nibbles at them and tries to flap each wing, and as he does, he sends a blizzard of flaky debris from the erupting "plastic" tubes. He even tried to scratch his head, which was quite a trick because he hasn't developed sea-legs yet; however he bravely stood on one wobbly leg, pulling the opposing wing down, and maneuvered the other leg up, behind, and over the wing in order to scratch, before he lost his balance. He persisted and eventually mastered the technique. In our ignorance, we thought he was pursuing fleas, but Rand says:

The growing feather emerges from the skin as a dark, blood-rich, pin-feather with a grayish, scaly sheath. New material is added at the base and the tip is pushed out. As the feather grows, it bursts the sheath, which flakes off as the vane expands. A grown, dry feather is in effect a dead structure; material cannot be added or withdrawn by the physiological processes of the bird. Damage by wear or breakage is not repaired.[6]

Robin's box is beginning to be too confining. He has tried several times to get out, but he couldn't negotiate the sides. Rather than risk having an injured bird, Sam placed the box on the floor so that Robin wouldn't have far to fall. And, because the bird still isn't fully clothed, we fastened a dim light to the side for warmth.

JUNE 7. Today Sam decided that Robin is FEMALE. The breast feathers, now more prominent, are pale and speckled. "So-o I think he's a SHE," he announced.

Her voice is stronger and she has started a ritual of communications. She remains quiet until she hears Sam's step on the squeaky stairs, usually about 6:30 A.M. Then she begins a series of insistent chirps but pauses between each one to listen for a vocal response from Sam. As he nears the door, she increases her volume and becomes an absolute shrew by the time he reaches her. She expects her food instantly. And she wants it jammed far down her throat. Undoubtedly the forceps remind her of her parents' beaks.

Robin's box has now been placed on its side, and she has free access to the shop floor. Her legs are stronger, and it will be good for her to be able to hop around. They are changing color: from a milky gray to a reddish brown. Her long, thin claws are sharp as they open and close against our fingers. We have noticed for the first time that she has segmented toes with textured toe pads and padded "palms" on her feet — they are unbelievably like our hands, although instead of the linear pattern of our finger prints, Robin's feet have a pebbly texture.

"I wonder if each bird on earth has an individual toe print," I remarked.

Her stance is considerably more upright, and she is totally dependent on her feet for support, rather than her elbows (or maybe they should be called "knees").

Later in the day, Robin exercised her new-found freedom by following Sam around the shop, occasionally hopping on his shoe if he paused at his tasks. If he forgot and moved too quickly, she fell off. Undeterred, she bounced right back and hopped as fast as she could to catch up with him again.

JUNE 8. The dialogue between man and bird is becoming more complex, at least on the part of the bird. Sam's part is limited to clicks and clacks of the tongue and to one kind of whistle: soft and short, to which she has a "social" response. But she has a variety of sounds which signify her needs or moods: greetings, alarm, discontent, demands for food, and the contented muffled crackle sound when her tummy is stuffed — almost like the purr of a kitten.

The afternoon was sunny, and we decided that Robin was ready to join us on our deck. It just didn't seem right to keep her where she couldn't see the light of day (our shop had been a photographic darkroom and the windows were still covered with blackout material). Besides, she was gregarious and loved Sam's company. She accepted me, too, but she really preferred Sam. We put her on the deck floor several times, but each time she just stood huddled in the one spot on which she was placed. She was but a speck on a vast floor, and the world overwhelmed her; furthermore, the wind was a bit on the chilly side. Sam scooped her up and she nestled contentedly in his cupped hand. She remained that way all afternoon, except for her many lunches, while Sam read. We had brought her kitchen to the deck, so the paté was only an arm's reach away.

On one occasion I found Sam sitting low in his chair, his chin practically on his chest, sound asleep; and Robin snuggled against his palm, sound asleep, too! What a wonderful sight. I would never have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes.

[6] - Austin L. Rand, Ornithology: An Introduction
       (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., Inc., 1967), p. 180.

TO CHAPTER 7