7 - THE JOYS OF PARENTHOOD

JUNE 9. Robin has even more volume today as she scolds Sam through the door for not hurrying with her breakfast. He has learned to open the door cautiously because she waits for him directly on the other side, resisting every nudge of the door. When he finally manages to coax it open and has physically appeared, Robin makes a beeline to her dinner table at the opposite side of the room where she shrieks and stamps her feet. She is impatience personified.

She has no interest in taking her food from Sam's fingers but insists on paté-ala-forceps and gorges until her whole front is massively misshapen. We tried periodically to tempt her with the eight-dollar worms but she always stubbornly shut her beak. After being very badly snubbed, the worms are now living happily in our old compost pile.

Robin is blossoming out into a regular beauty with a full head of feathers and a covered bottom. The gray, downy underwear next to her skin is there for insulation, while the coarser vaned feathers on top will keep her dry in wet weather and will give her a streamlined form. Joel Carl Welty in his The Life of Birds says, "By actively sleeking, fluffing, and ruffling its body feathers, a bird can to a degree maintain its optimum body temperature despite external temperature changes."[7] Robin did seem to be fluffed out at times, especially when she was relaxed; but when she was excited or running, she was compact and sleek and looked considerably thinner.

Robin began sitting on our shoulders, at the nape of the neck, and on Sam's head. Her tiny claws tickled and raised goose bumps on us. Because she was so close to our ears, we could hear and feel every sound she made — cherkles, crackles, burbles, gargles, peeps. She was a sheer delight. Terribly distracting — but what a joy. We didn't seem to accomplish anything other than the basics in our own lives and sometimes not even those. Well, what did it matter? This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. How many other people can claim to eating lunch or to reading with a Robin on the shoulder? And, bird droppings on the collar?

We had read That Quail Robert and envied how well-trained she was; not so with Robin. Nothing was predictable. We did learn to wear old clothing topped with a barber's cape or an old towel; and we always had a roll of paper towels handy. How DOES one train a bird to the social graces?

 

Author's mother and companion

JUNE 10. Concern about Robin's future surfaced every so often. What was to become of her? When will she be ready for her freedom and will she be able to cope with it? Anxious to do the best for Robin, Sam called the bird woman again.

"Don't release the bird until it is able to feed itself — not until it can find its own food — and, not until its tail feathers are at least two inches long," the bird woman advised. She also suggested taking it to the state park, away from neighborhood cats, when it was ready to go. We silently envisioned the day of departure, imagining ourselves in a darkened, wet forest, waving good-bye to our helpless, unworldly baby — no one to snuggle her in a cupped hand, no shoulder to ride on. IT WAS TOO MUCH TO BEAR.

"Well, for one thing, the tail feathers aren't anywhere long enough," we reasoned and quickly put aside all thoughts about releasing her.

Sam introduced Robin to a Pyrex pie plate containing an inch of water. She knew immediately what to do with it, hopping in with uninhibited glee. She scooted down, dunked herself over and over, and flapped her wings vigorously, splashing water for several feet in all directions. When she finally finished her gleeful plunges, she spent the rest of the day preening.

She still isn't able to fly upward more than two feet. In order to reach the top of the work bench, for example, she must do it in stages: first, she flies to the shelf on a roll-around cart, then to the seat of a drafting stool, and then from there an easy hop to the bench top. She makes a few joyous, teetering pirouettes before her next practice flight back to the floor. This cycle is repeated until she is exhausted or until she spies a new object that must be examined.

JUNE 11. Sam hesitantly placed Robin on the lower limb of the apple tree in our front yard, not fully knowing what the consequences might be, but she sat quietly for over an hour while he read the newspaper nearby. Then she rode out to the mailbox on his shoulder, an activity she prefers next only to eating and bathing. She seems especially attracted to Sam's blue shirt, so he wears it for her nearly everyday. I have to wait until he goes to bed in order to launder it — well almost.

We have known for some time that birds do see color, but hadn't realized that they have preferences. Welty confirms this in his information on color experiments with birds. For example, he discusses the placement of colorless objects against various colored backgrounds: the objects which received the most pecks were those shown against green or yellow — the premise is that the colorless objects took on the PREFERRED colors, red or blue (within the bird's brain as in man's), when placed against their complementary colors of green or yellow. Interestingly, too, robins and blue throats have shown an obsession for removing objects which match their own orange or blue plumage, explaining why Cock Robin is especially disagreeable when another robin enters its territory.

Rand's evidence, too, reveals that birds see color much as we do and in fact probably in a more advanced way: "Indeed, it has been suggested that certain oil droplets colored red, orange, and yellow which occur in the cones of birds' eyes may enable the birds to distinguish mixes of pigmentary colors to an extent possible to man only with the aid of filters."[8]

While "The eye of the bird has reached a state of perfection found in no other animal,"[9] "... the bird's hearing range is not much different from ours."[10] How, then, are birds able to hear worms in our lawn and we can't? Is it because their ears are closer to the ground? Or do they have some kind of sensory element in their toes? (Right now, our Robin doesn't care anything about the lawn or what might be in it.)

[7] - Joel Carl Welty, The Life of Birds (Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Co., 1975), p. 32.

[8] - Austin L. Rand, Ornithology: An Introduction (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., Inc., 1967), p. 43.

[9] - Welty, 77.

[10] - Rand, 44.

What was to become of her? We're sorry, but that's as far as we can take you. The remaining chapters are "The Terrible Two's," "Another Crisis," "A Show of Independence," "Leaving Home and Hating It," Epilogue, and Bilbiography. To purchase the book, please see link below.

Mary Balcomb authored four other books: Nicolai Fechin, Russian/American Artist; William F. Reese, American Artist; Sergei Bongart, Russian/American Artist and Froggy Makes a Pie. She passed away April 5, just before her 85th birthday.

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