Robin Rescue: A tale of dogs and baby birds

On most days, before I let the dogs out, I perform a song and dance routine in our fenced-in back yard. It’s true. I sing, clap, and wave my arms around in a performance that would most certainly receive no accolades, as it is calculated to scare the fur and feathers out of any current non-human visitors to our yard, and thus encourage them to leave, post-haste.

Most audience members heed the warning and skeddadle. But in mid spring, everything changes, when baby squirrels are old enough to follow mom out of the nest, chipmunk pups chase each other around my patio, and fledglings not quite developed enough to fly leave their nests anyway and flap around on the ground.

Either they’re too young to know bad singing, or are too caught up in youngster shenanigans, or are just plain stupid, because these youths are just a few steps or wing flaps away from demonstrating the ugly side of survival of the fittest.

Because my dogs think these small, squeaky, chaseable things are ever so much fun.

I found this out the hard way. (Don’t ask. I. Can’t. Even.) And nearly every year, I get reminded in a not-so-pretty way. 

We all keep an eye out for the first babies of the season. And once they appear in the yard, my poor dogs are not allowed to run free unless I have scoured every inch to ensure that all at-risk animal youths are shooed into safe places under our shed or beneath our deck or beyond our fences.

Meet the Robin family

When a family of robins moved into the arborvitae by our deck this spring, we kept a close eye on them. The shrub had suffered severely during the incessant nor’easters this past winter, and it drooped sadly over the steps. Every year, robins build a nest there, and I was sure this year they’d find another home, but like a family returning to their favorite vacation spot even as it gets a little shabbier each season, the birds showed up and got busy constructing. 

Robins in arborvitae

Look closely and you can see the babies in the bush.

Mom laid three pretty little eggs, and soon the chicks appeared. We stopped using the stairs by the bush, walking the long way around so as not to disturb the birds. Both mom and dad shouted birdie curses at us when we got too close. 

Three robin chicks

Three robin chicks

Because of the shrubbery had such a dramatic lean, the nest was much lower to the ground than in the past, and this year it was easy to see from the deck. We hoped the dogs wouldn’t notice, and for the most part, they didn’t, except that one time mom complained a little too loudly about the humans stomping around, and Jasper went running to see what all the fuss was about. She flew away, and he forgot about it.

For the most part, the dogs ignored the birds, and I shot a short and amusing video of the birds in their nest with Jasper and Tucker hanging out underneath, oblivious to the nestlings above them.

My two dogs hang out under a shrub, oblivious to a nest of baby birds just above their heads.

“We have to keep an eye on those robins,” we all told each other. “When they fledge…” We never finished the sentence, knowing that it meant we would have to walk the dogs on leashes, or contain them behind our pool fence once the birds left the nest. Those first few days, fledglings are like teenaged humans the first time they get behind the wheel of a car. Except they’re learning to fly, not drive. And their feathers aren’t completely finished. And they haven’t had fliers ed.

Robins in a nest with open mouths wait impatiently to be fed

Feed me!


The backyard baby boom begins

Two days ago, my daughter Melanie saw a baby squirrel jumping all over a patient mom, and that’s when we knew the backyard baby boom had begun.

The next day, I turned my creature-scaring performance up a notch, making it extra loud and boisterous.

But I should have put two and two together when I heard a robin making more noise than usual in the maple trees by my pool. 

Thus, when I saw all three of my dogs sniffing at something in the yard, my first thought was, “Aw, look at the cute dog butts. Let me take a picture.” (Anyone with dogs, you get it, right? Dog butts are so cute. Three in a row? Cute cubed.)

Tucker and Jasper sniffing, Lilah walking away

I never got the three-dog-butt photo. Here Tucker and Jasper are sniffing, and Lilah has gotten bored and walked away.

So I started snapping away with my Canon, continuing to shoot as I got closer, figuring I might get a cute picture of my dogs sniffing something interesting like a dead worm, or rabbit poop. 

The robins (by now there were two) shrieked and squawked and flapped as I approached. Maybe that should have clued me in.

But not until I saw the baby bird through the lens of my camera did I realize what was going on.

Tucker sniffing a baby robin

I didn’t even realize I took this picture until after I downloaded the photos from the day.

Events proceeded at just under warp speed after that.

I stopped shooting.

The bird, which up until that moment, had done the absolutely only thing it could—which was freeze—suddenly decided to make a break for it.

Tucker pounced, I blocked him, simultaneously shouting “Leave it!” which we have practiced many times in preparation for this very moment.

Jasper and Lilah came running back (they had wandered off when the Sniff turned out to be unmoving, and therefore uninteresting.)

The fledgling flapsqueaked through the fence into the pool area—and right into the pool.

The dogs tried to climb through the fence.

At this moment, mom and dad bird were shreiking, the dogs were scrambling to figure out how to get through the fence, and baby robin was doing its best to stay afloat, holding its wings out and fluttering ineffectively.

I grabbed the collar of the most agitated and vociferous dog (that would be Tucker) and started running for the house, calling to the other two pups. “Inside! Let’s go!” Though running would be an exaggeration as apparently flip flops are not the best gear for a sprint. 

Doing my best not to trip up the stairs, I stumbled across the deck with three dogs—all of whom were sure they were going to get treats, because I trained them to come and to follow and to head inside when I tell them.

In the house, I slipped off my flimsy footwear, yanked on my rainboots, freed myself of my heavy camera, and bolted out the door. I ran to the shed to grab the long pole and net we use for leaf and wildlife removal and… it wasn’t there. The pole should have been Right There. It’s long and shiny and there aren’t too many places in the shed where it would fit. 

But. It. Wasn’t. There.

Where’s the birdie?

By now, my heart was pounding from the running. I’m sobbing because I am sure the bird is drowning and I can’t find the pole and it is All My Fault and I don’t want yet another creature to die on my watch and I just can’t add another soul to the list of birds and squirrels and chipmunks and rabbits and groundhogs that were casualties of my dogs and oh crap, I’ll just grab a rake because anything anything anything is better than nothing and if by now the bird has sunk, I will jump into the effing pool clothes and all no matter how cold and is it possible to do CPR on a bird and…

Rake in hand, I ran to the side of the pool—and it was gone. No fluttering bird. The only ripples on the surface caused by the pool pump. I strained to figure out which one of the brownish lumps at bottom of the pool was the stupid baby. I could still hear its parents squawking. 

And suddenly, there in the corner, caught by the current created by the pump, I saw it! The poor creature must have been too exhausted to flap and fight, but somehow still managed to stay afloat. I swung the rake through the pool, scooped up the bird, and gently laid the rake on the the cement.

The little thing clung to the tines, it’s little chest heaving—matching my own labored breathing—its wings held out awkwardly from its side as if it were still in the water. The feathers looked soggy and bedraggled.

There were no more sounds from the parents.

My tears were now filled with relief.

The baby lives.

After we both recovered a bit, I pulled out a couple of nitrile gloves I always keep in my dog treat bag—which was still attached to me—and gently picked up the bird. As I cradled it in my hands, I could feel its tiny heart beating. It shivered. I carried the baby out through the pool gate, across the yard and up on the deck, and carefully placed it in the nest, which I could now see was empty. I thought the bird could recover there before it would inevitably jump out and wander my yard again. I hoped its parents would think to look back in the nest and maybe bring it some food.

“You’ll be ok,” I said. I wasn’t sure whether I was talking to the bird—or to me.

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1 Comment on "Robin Rescue: A tale of dogs and baby birds"

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  1. Ruby says:

    OMD, my heart was almost beating outta my chest reading this! Nows, I knows I’ve said it befores, butts I thinks Tucker and I are distant cousins! BOL! And I thinks Ma can TOTALLY relate ~ why,she has grabbed me by the collar more times than I can count because of wildlife in our yardie. Twice because of burdies…waits, no…four times! ☺ Anyhu, I am glads the puppy burdie is okays! Good work!
    Ruby ♥

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