Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 06.21.05
Stanstead, Quebec


Saving private robin

Nature is stupid. There's just no talking sense to it.

All we wanted to do was to rescue the fledgling that tumbled from its nest Saturday and keep it from being gobbled up by the cats.

And if there was a cat for the job, it was ours.

For weeks now, Moe has been presenting us with mice that have suffered various atrocities. It's merely cat instinct, of course, but we feel badly for the mice. Personally, I blame Walt Disney for this misplaced emotion.

The bird on the lawn Saturday afternoon was very much alive, hopping about and calling for its parents. The adult robins flitted about nervously, squawking frantically, like stockbrokers trying to dump Nortel.

We fretted too.

Can we get it back in the nest? No, the ladder won't reach and it's too far out on the branch.

Should we pick it up? No, the mother will reject it. (This, we later learned from the Internet, is not so. Birds do not have a terrific sense of smell.)

Should we feed it? Yes, go get some worms from the garden. (This, we also later learned, was a no-no.)

Should we wrangle up the cats? Yes, keep them indoors. Alert the neighbours. Call the Marines.

Kate, our big-hearted, mildly obsessive animal lover, gave the wee thing a couple of worms. It stretched its orange gullet wide open, chirping eagerly for some grub. Plop, in went the worm.

Later, I contributed one. It gave me a strange thrill, like I was making a difference, performing a small kindness, as if this peeping lump of dryer lint would actually be grateful.

With Moe safely inside, the bird managed to survive the night. But the next morning, more cats came prowling. That was it, we had to do something. We found a box, lined it with a cloth and grass, and scooped up the bird. We then set it in a cedar hedge off the ground but accessible to the parents.

Then we watched and waited.

I spent a good part of Sunday afternoon seeing whether the parents would bring worms to the fledgling in the hedge or up to its siblings in the nest.

If I had been thinking clearly, I could have taken wagers and made a few bucks. Instead, I watched the adults methodically pecking at worms. Once they had one, they would just stand there endlessly, as if reading their surroundings, determining their next move. Part of me achieved a Zen-like calm.

The other part wanted to shout, "Just do something, you dumb bird."

Around mid-afternoon, we checked the box in the cedars. The bird was gone and nowhere in sight. Had it hopped out? Flown away? Become lunch? In some ways, we were relieved. No more responsibility. Nature had taken its course.

Then, late afternoon: "Mom, come here. It's back!" There on the lawn, under the pine tree again, was the fledgling.

This time we took a more determined approach. Our neighbours provided an old bottomless hamster cage, which we inverted and rigged from a branch in the pine tree. It was closer to the nest and there was no way the bird could hop out this time.

We watched for a while. The mother came once or twice and sat on the edge of the cage but none of us actually saw her feed it. Before nightfall, I climbed the ladder one last time and offered two more worms. What does the Internet know anyway?

The next morning, our lawn was quiet. There were no adult robins around. The nest above seemed empty. And the cage was still. I climbed the ladder and found the fledgling on its side, dead.

What did we do wrong? Should we have just left it? But then the cats would have got it for sure. We were only trying to do the right thing.

Later on, Deb put forward a theory: The bird we put in the cedar hedge and the one we found later on the lawn were two different birds.

The cedar bird had disappeared for whatever reason and a second fledgling had also fallen from the nest. In other words, the root cause of the bird's death was not human intervention but shoddy robin craftsmanship.

I felt a little better. Stupid nature.