Saturday, May 7, 2011

Return of Robin Memories of Spring

Robin, Regina, SK
Robin Season in Regina © SB 
The return of the robins — one of the things I now love about spring.

Here in Regina, Saskatchewan, they look cheerful and inquisitive hopping across backyards, parks and shorelines, and although their chirps sometimes sound aggressive, at least these prairie birds do not attack me...  

Unlike the robins in Montreal Island area, which at one time were conditioned to hate me. Not all humans. Me. The short woman with the dark hair. Not men, not kids, not other women. Only me.

Eastern robins display a perplexing mix of dependence on, and contempt for, people: They recognize the safety we provide from grackles, raccoons and other egg thieves, but they do not want us near their nests. That works fine if they've chosen a spot close to the house, but far from the door. It's when they decide to nest in high-traffic areas that the trouble begins.

And where did my Montreal robin — the ancestor of my eastern Canadian avian enemies — choose to nest? In the tree at the edge of the back porch, a few feet from the kitchen door, right next to the north steps to the garden, inches away from the utility shelf for the clothesline. That was the route I used most from the house to the yard, where I would stand to hang the laundry, where I would watch the kids play on the swings or in the sandbox, where I would sit and play fetch with my dog.

I knew if the robin succeeded, I wouldn't be able to use that exit from the porch, or hang clothes outside, or stand or play there for the rest of the summer. So I developed a plan. She hadn't actually started to build; all I had to do was startle her, and she'd find somewhere else to nest.

But what did I know about robins?

When waving my arms didn't stop her — or her crafty mate — from trying to bring twigs and dried grass to my tree, I decided to increase my defenses. I tied a rope around the branch she'd selected, then went inside where I thought she couldn't see me. Every time she tried to land,  I tugged. The branch shook. She flew.

My porch was robin-free.

Or would have been, if she hadn't kept coming back. For hours.

That was when I realized I had neither the patience nor determination of a robin, because magically, a nest had begun to take shape, twig by twig, even though I would swear that no birds ever managed to land near it.

With the battle shifting from preventing a nest to destroying one, I conceded defeat.

And that's when I realized that I also have neither the perception nor memory of a robin. I still can't tell them apart, but even though I was hiding in the kitchen during most of our branch-tugging skirmish, she could pick me out from a group of people at 25 feet. And she did.

I respected her too much to keep using the clothesline — or, I at least learned to respect her and keep my distance after she flew straight at my face a couple of times. I started using the south steps from the porch and I avoided the lawn near her tree.

But it was summer and I still wanted to go outside, to eat at the picnic table or play with the kids. And every time she saw me on the porch or in the yard, she flew straight out of her nest to dive-bomb me. Not the kids. Not G. Not friends or relatives, not stray children or dogs. Her angry beady attack-robin eyes focused only on me.

I started wearing hats and carrying umbrellas. The robin's assaults continued. And so did her lessons: when her young robins left the nest, each was imprinted with me as the image of their foe.

By the next spring, every robin in the neighbourhood would know who and what I was.

And the next spring, she came back, triumphantly, to nest in her tree beside the porch, her glittery eyes watching my every move inside the windows, dive-bombing me once more whenever I stepped out the back door.      


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