My resident robins had been expecting for some time, and when I saw Dad depart their nest beneath the garage eaves yesterday with what appeared to be poo in his beak, I figured the bundles of joy had arrived.
I had confirmation today when I saw Mom perched atop a fencepost, an earthworm wriggling in her beak. She seemed tired, and lost in thought. Perhaps: Why didn’t I insist he wear a condom?
That’s when I saw them: at least four fuzzy little heads, each equipped with a beak opened skyward to the width of the Grand Canyon.
Voracious. Relentless. Impossible.
Parenting is a 50-50 deal for robins. So Dad is also running and flying himself ragged, dive-bombing squirrels and other potential predators that venture near, and hustling grub while Mom sits the nest to keep the youngsters warm. And, of course, removing poo. (“Honey, would you take out the trash?”)
I’ve observed him, too, frozen in a kind of daze, his beak full of bug and his brain, perhaps, of thoughts parallel to his mate’s: God, I’m an idiot. But she looked so pretty after that third beer.
Their weariness brings to mind a domestic scene from It’s a Wonderful Life, in which George Bailey, at the end of his rope, comes home to a cacophony of needy children, and loses it: “You call this a happy family?” he grouses to his wife. “Why did we have to have all these kids?”
Of course, by the end of the movie, George’s angelic encounter has restored a sunnier perspective, and we can infer that he and Mary will again get their courtship on, with the inevitable result.
The same is likely for my robins, a species that typically raises two to three broods a summer. In a week or so, their first kids will have fledged, and, after a decent interval, Dad will again lasso the moon for Mom, who will deposit another clutch of eggs in the nest.
And a couple of weeks after that, I will see it again: the beak full of food; the long, weary pause.
And then back to the nest, and all those kids.
This post originally appeared three years ago; it repeats now to honor the new season’s busy bird parents in my yard: wrens and finches.