Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

August 1, 2013

Funky Robin Talk

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:03 pm

O.K. I am going to blow my horn just a little bit – a toot if you will. I was a winner in the recent Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology “Funky Nests in Funky Places” online contest. I submitted a pair of photos, a ditty, and a cartoon and won a fairly expensive pair of binoculars for my effort.  Let’s not dwell on the fact that there were lots of winners or that I probably beat out some very sad little grade schooler who spent weeks crying over her loss and vowing to give up on art for the rest of her life because of it. I say, get used to it kid – been there, done that.

The purpose of the contest, with a focus on urbanized birds, was to record some ridiculous, unusual, funny or otherwise inappropriate nesting spots. As you might expect, a majority of the entries featured American Robins. After all, there are very few Bald Eagles that will be found nesting in a mailbox and even fewer Loons that will choose to nest atop a concrete frog in a garden pond. Either case would produce a sure contest winner.  Fortunately, Robins do the “funky thing” so well that this contest could re-titled as “Funky Robin nests in Funky Places” and the entries would still pour in by the hundreds.

My entry was sent in on the last possible day. I wasn’t procrastinating, however. I just didn’t have any funkiness to report. When I encountered two Robin nests built within the house gutters right next to the downspout – not in the usual spot underneath the gutter, but actually in the gutter trough itself- I thought to myself “Hey, that’s funky…and timely!”

  Bad Decisions 1 & 2

The funny thing about these nests is that they are probably placed in the worst of all possible places. Sure, during dry weather the spot is ready made but, like an arroyo in the desert, it fills with rushing water after the first rainstorm.  The first nest had already been long been flooded over by the time I discovered it. The second nest was fresher and was located in an identical situation at the end of the garage gutter. This structure had survived long enough for the bird to place one egg into it before the next rain took its watery toll.

Due to the similarity and proximity of the two nests I believe they were built by the same bird-brained individual. Hopefully this double failure knocked some sense into the builder. Common sense and instinct don’t always converge when it comes to robins.

For those robins who do build in more sensible locations, few will re-use a nest after it has completed its purpose. Some may raise a second brood in the same structure if time and hormones permit, but for the most part nests are “one off” creations. An old nest becomes an unrecognizable part of the landscape the second the last nestling flies the coop. Still, you’d think that birds would adapt old nests or even recycle material and save energy every time they raise a new brood. You’d think wrong, grasshopper.

The cross beam supporting my Dollar Lake cabin porch is a favorite for the local robins.  The spot is well protected from the elements and the nests will not come down unless physically removed by moi. The current robin has just added a 6th nest to the scene. In the space between a particular pair of roof joists which already sported three nests, she added a fourth. It is nestled tightly in the perfectly sized vacancy between two old nests.

From a human perspective this situation looks ridiculous – like building a house right next to a row of perfectly good, identical, and free homes. From the bird’s perspective it all makes perfect sense. The old nests are not recognized as nests because the female did not build them. They might as well be lawn statuary as far as she is concerned. It is the process of nest building that completes the mental necessity of the breeding cycle.

It’s all about being in the mood – being funky, I guess you could say. It so happens that robins are in the right mood at the wrong place more than any other common species.

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