Robin’s nest

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(HOST) Willem Lange’s upstairs guest room was recently turned into a nativity scene and he was completely caught up in the domestic drama.

(LANGE) It’s difficult to concentrate when somebody’s having babies in your upstairs guest room.

Most of us who are concerned about the environment often feel that people who seem unconcerned are as arrogant as human beings can be. But arrogance is a two-sided coin. The reverse of unconcern can be a naive conceit that we should intervene to improve on Nature, to alter processes that don’t need or maybe even shouldn’t have help.

This has been the year that our house has attracted nesting birds. All of them raised their broods under the eaves and left. Feeling we’d done our duty to nature, we relaxed, like parents after the last of their kids graduates from college.

But a couple of days later Mother went up to the guest room. I heard her cry, “Oh, no!” I went up. She was peering at a lower corner of the casement window. There was a mess jammed into the angle between the half-open sash and the jamb, supported by the metal control arm beneath. It was clearly the work of a robin, Turdus migratorius. The windowsill had become a nursery.

“You want me to knock it down?” I asked. I knew I couldn’t do it if she said yes. Instead, we stuck a piece of cardboard inside the screen so we wouldn’t disturb her. We closed the door so the cat wouldn’t scare her. Now and then we peeked around the board to see how things were going. On the second morning, she’d laid two eggs, and by the next morning, a third.

Our anthropomorphic sappiness took over. There she sat, day after day, a single parent deserted by her lover, left alone to fend for herself and her eggs. Mother suggested buying some worms, which she would put into a shallow tray of wet dirt that I would provide. Her maternal instincts had overcome her distaste for birds up close. I suggested a small heating pad to cover the eggs while the bird was away.

But our activity made her nervous. So we stifled our impulses, and tried not to upset her. We found she didn’t like the canned laughter of Public Television comedies. She screamed bloody murder whenever she heard it.

Two mornings ago, two of the eggs hatched into rust-colored bits of fur with open, demanding mouths. The robin hustled away the bits of shell into the woods. Her vulnerability had to be hidden.

Now she had to feed three appetites and keep an egg warm, besides. We noticed, however, that the hatchlings huddled against the sides of the egg, helping to warm and insulate it. Mother and I found ourselves peeking often into the nest. Ever seen grown people cheering on an egg?

It was cool last night. She sat tight till well after dawn. I checked an hour ago. She was on the nest. I looked again just now. She’s gone foraging. I stood there a second with the curtain pulled back, gazing at the lone egg. Come on, little guy!

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire. I gotta get back to work.

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