Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?

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Fledgling birds can really worry us humans when we encounter them. Young birds are often “rescued” by humans when found out of the nest, even when they’re exactly where they’re supposed to be.

Little birds will often pop out of the nest once they’re fully feathered but before they’re ready to like, fly fly. They’re like “Let’s do this! I’m ready!” and then *boop* they’re on the ground. Their parents know about this and will continue looking after them down there: “Great job Tim! Now let’s work on that ‘flying’ thing…” The parents keep feeding and protecting them when they’re out of the nest, including scooting them to safer locations as needed. When we move fledgling babies, the parents may not be able to find them again — “where’s Tim?” — or we inadvertently put them somewhere that’s actually more risky to them. No human knows the threats to a robin like a robin does. In this case, a bird brain is the best brain.

I knew this intellectually, but was very relieved when I actually saw it happen a couple of years ago. A wee little robin was out of the nest on the ground. You do not look like that is a good place for you little friend! But I just watched it over the course of the day, heard the parents coming and going, and by nightfall its folks had done such a good job camouflaging it in a pile of leaves that I initially thought it was gone. And Tim was still there, safe and sound, in the morning.

It happened again this year. Every year we seem to get one or two robin’s nests, so most of our springs include fledgling robins. We’ve had so many robins’ nests appear on and around the house since we moved in that I suggested to Neil we could use them to count our years here, like the rings of a tree.

This year’s “Tim”

One of this year’s nests was in the rafters right above where we park our electric 4×4. We’ve been careful with our comings-and-goings since the nest appeared, and try to time things so we’re not interrupting feeding time. Today, it seems, was fledging day. By late afternoon, there was only one baby robin in the nest, and it was clear they were thinking about leaving. By evening, there were zero robins in the nest.

Just to be sure though, I checked the ground carefully around the 4×4. Nothing there. So I started unloading bits and pieces from the 4×4 bed. And whoop! Out flew a baby robin! I definitely didn’t put that there. I guess the little one’s flight path had parabola-d up up, out of the nest, and down down into the bed of the truck. Fortunately it was a very mobile little nugget, so when I disturbed them it just flew up and out of the bed and down to the ground. It stayed there for a little while, cheeping indignantly for a parent to come sort this out. I left, to give the feathered family plenty of space. I came back again later and found the fledgling on a different perch, tucked on the logs we keep behind the house. It kept cheeping and a parent kept cheeping back from somewhere up the hill for another hour or two, until Neil and I eventually noticed we were no longer hearing either the big or little cheeps behind the house. Up and into the woods you go little one.

And you ask, “What if I fall?” Oh, but my darling, “What if you fly?”

~Erin Hanson

If you find a baby bird on the ground, it is good to ask for advice to help ensure you’re seeing what you think you’re seeing before intervening. If you phone a wildlife centre (SPWC; Toronto Wildlife Centre) they will help you assess the situation and give the little ones their best shot at life — nearly always in the continued care of the parents, if at all possible.

See you next year Tim!