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Consider the robins

Learning perseverance and partnership from the most unlikely places.

Legend has it that the person who spots the first robin will have good luck all year. Our robins arrived several weeks ago and they didn’t look too lucky – hunkering down under the evergreens, feathers puffed up, wearily eyeing the snow covered lawn for anything that looked like food. While I’m not superstitious, I can’t deny feeling fortunate at seeing our red-breasted friends return. It’s a hint that winter’s bitter winds will eventually yield to spring breezes. Beyond that, these lovely creatures remind me of my father. They were his favourite birds.

Oh, Pa had his issues with robins for sure – such as the constant battle to save his strawberry patch from their greedy little beaks. “I wouldn’t mind it so much,” he often said, “If they’d eat a whole berry and move on instead of poking holes in all of them.” He hung pie plates on sticks to scare them off and carefully laid netting over the patch whenever the berries were ripe. Inevitably the robins found ways around his protective measures.

He allowed them to nest over the garage light, even though it meant an airborne assault every time he went to the car, not to mention the mighty mess on the doorstep. One evening he set up the hibachi in the driveway. As flames rose from the charcoal, one of the fledglings decided to leave the nest. In awkward flight, it headed straight for the flaming barbecue. Pa intercepted, grabbing the hibachi and lifting it out of the way. The little robin pursued, as if determined to surrender itself to the fire. Another nestling joined in the fracas. Despite Pa’s evasive maneuvers, the baby birds followed. The mother robin returned in a tizzy and began swooping low over the poor man’s head. He finally took the hibachi to the end of the driveway and set it down. “Crazy birds!” he shouted. “My head isn’t a landing strip.”

True companionship

Still, Pa sincerely admired the robins. He loved the way they greet the dawn with their hopeful song and close out the day with a contented melody. Like him, they put in long days of hard work. They persevere through challenges. And perhaps best of all, he respected the way both father and mother robins take their responsibilities so seriously.

A pair of robins typically produces two or three clutches of eggs in a season, with four to six eggs each time. They often build a new nest for each batch. Females choose the nesting site and actually do the building, but males supply construction materials. Once the eggs are hatched, both parents share in delivering up to 150 meals per day. A healthy baby robin will eat its own weight in worms, bugs and berries each day. “It’s all about working together for the family,” my dad told me. “Like a duet – when each one does their part the music is so much prettier.”

Amazing what we can learn from the birds.

Welcome back, guys. Who’s up for barbecue?

Author

  • Heidi VanderSlikke lives on a farm in Mapleton Township with her husband Jack. They share their home with a gigantic Golden Retriever named Norton, who thinks he's a lap dog. Heidi and Jack have three happily married children and seven delightful grandkids.

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