LAKE PLACID DIET: Bird drama
Mrs. Robin built a nest outside my back door. What can I do?
May 10, 2022: 490 lbs.
May 31, 2022 (surgery): 460 lbs.
May 23, 2023: 386 lbs.
Total lost: 104 lbs.
There’s been a lot of bird drama lately outside my home office window. When I say window, I mean the glass door next to my dining room table, which opens to the deck at the back of the house. And when I say bird drama, I mean Mrs. Robin building a nest at a most inconvenient location.
On the second floor, above the dining room (the home office), is my bedroom, which has a sliding door to a small, wooden balcony. That means when I walk out the sliding door from the dining room to the deck, there’s a balcony overhead. Underneath the floor boards of the balcony are beams. Between one of those beams and the floor boards, a female robin started building a nest two weeks ago.
This happened just as I was gearing up for gardening season, getting outside, away from the screens and the temptation of snacking. Yard work has helped me keep off more than 100 pounds since my weight-loss surgery almost a year ago. This is a key doorway — literally — to my new, active lifestyle.
I use the deck several times every day of the year. It’s where my tiny chiweenie, Arabella, accesses her dog yard, down a ramp on the left side of the deck. It’s where I currently have containers with garlic and spinach. It’s where I have my potting table for transplanting seedlings. It’s where I like to sit and soak in the sun on weekend afternoons.
Now it’s the site of a bird drama with me, the dog and a variety of bird species.
Starting at dawn, Mrs. Robin would swoop in to the nest site, underneath the balcony, with nest-building material stuffed in her beak.
For the first week, the wind blew all her material to the deck below. I felt bad. What happens if Mrs. Robin doesn’t get the nest built in time to lay her eggs?
Trying to be helpful, I scooped up the material with aluminum poles (used like chopsticks) and placed it back on the beam, hoping she’d appreciate the time-saving effort. Not a chance. She ignored my pile and began building another nest, even closer to the door.
I shouldn’t have been worried. After two days this past weekend, Mrs. Robin had built a new nest.
The drama doesn’t end with Mrs. Robin. Below the nest, a female mourning dove began stealing the material that had fallen to the deck — so she could build her own nest. She grabbed the material and flew down the dog’s yard to the cedar hedge in front of the house.
We get regular visits from many other birds, including northern cardinals and gray catbirds, who are nesting nearby. Looking out the glass door, I see a song sparrow and a pair of downy woodpeckers on a tree in the backyard. But this robin activity is new to our home.
As Mrs. Robin was building her nest, Mr. Robin would sit on a tree branch or a fence in the backyard. I’m not sure of his role in the nest-building activity. Watch dog? Moral support? Either way, he’s always there, with his orange chest puffed out, watching her, watching me, watching the dog.
As I write this at 6 in the morning on Wednesday, May 24, I’ve noticed that Mr. Robin is singing on a tree branch over the backyard, trying to stay as close to the nest as possible. And I just saw him on the deck railing. This is new. I haven’t seen him hover like that, like Kevin Costner protecting Whitney Houston in “The Bodyguard” movie.
When I let the dog out 30 minutes earlier, I checked to see if Mrs. Robin was in her nest. She wasn’t, so the dog went out, did her business, and came back inside, falling back asleep in her bed underneath the dining room table as I write.
After seeing Mr. Robin, I got up and checked the nest. Sure enough, there’s Mrs. Robin, sitting between the beam and the balcony floor boards.
I can’t remove the nest, even if I wanted to. It’s against the law.
Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says most birds are protected. The law states: “No person may take (kill), possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale, any migratory bird, or the parts, nests, or eggs of such bird except as may be permitted under the terms of a valid permit.”
According to fws.gov, “It is illegal to destroy a nest that has eggs or chicks in it or if there are young birds that are still dependent on the nest for survival. It is also illegal for anyone to keep a nest they take out of a tree or find on the ground unless they have a permit to do so issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”
Even if the location of the nest is inconvenient?
Yes, even if Mrs. Robin has built a nest on your deck, where you let the dog out every day, transplant seedlings, grow spinach and garlic and like to sit in the sun. Tough luck!
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology covers this issue as part of the Frequently Asked Questions section on nestwatch.org.
Question: A bird laid its eggs in an inconvenient place. Can I move the nest?
Answer: It’s illegal to move a nest just because it’s inconvenient to you. If the nest is truly in a life-threatening place (e.g., in your car’s exhaust pipe), or it is damaged as a result of being somewhere inappropriate, please call the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for advice.
Question: A bird is starting to build a nest in an inconvenient place. Can I discourage it?
Answer: Yes, you can discourage a bird that has just started building a nest, before it lays any eggs. The distinction from the previous question is that an inactive nest (no eggs or young) can be removed, but an active one cannot.
I don’t want to disturb the nest and jeopardize the health of the hatchlings, so this is a perfect time to learn more about Mr. and Mrs. Robin and to see what I can do to help. Staying away is the best bet, I think.
The University of Michigan offers learning material about American robins on its BioKIDS website (biokids.umich.edu). It says that male and female robins form a pair bond during the breeding season and while raising their young: “They normally have two or three sets of young (broods) in each breeding season. 3 to 5 eggs are laid in each clutch. (‘Clutch’ means the group of eggs laid in one nest attempt. ‘Brood’ means the number of baby birds that hatch out of the eggs, so the brood may be smaller than the clutch.)”
My biggest worry in all of this bird drama — aside from the well-being of Mrs. Robin’s baby birds — was the disruption of my gardening activity and the dog’s trips to her yard.
Question: Will I be able to use the deck at all this spring and summer?
I was glad to read on BioKIDS that Mrs. Robin builds a new nest for each clutch of eggs. That means I will be able to use the deck after the baby birds fly away — in about six weeks: 14 days for Mrs. Robin to hatch the eggs during the incubation period, 14 days for the birds to fledge and 14 days for the birds to fly away.
“Even after leaving the nest,” BioKIDS explains, “the young birds follow their parents and beg food from them. They remain under cover on the ground during this time. Fledging is when baby birds leave the nest. About two weeks after fledging, young American robins become capable of sustained flight.”
So, after the baby robins leave the nest, they’ll either be stuck on the deck or in the dog’s yard before they can fly away.
In the meantime, I will have to alter my daily activity. The dog may have to go out the front of the house for six weeks, and I’ll have to concentrate my gardening and sun-soaking activities activity in the backyard.
This is certainly inconvenient, but I’m really glad it happened. I fully appreciate my front-row seat to this amazing cycle of life — just outside my window as I work on the newspaper. I didn’t have to search for nature; nature came to me. I feel blessed.
It gets me wondering, what’s next when Mr. and Mrs. Robin leave with their young? Will the critter drama go away?
There’s a groundhog that lives underneath my wood shop in the backyard. We’ve named him Homer. Last year, we saw another groundhog with him and named her Marge. It may be time to start learning about the reproductive cycles of groundhogs. A Bart, Lisa and Maggie may be in our future.