Monday, May 6, 2013

Darwin's Agent

There's a robin who has been trying to build a nest in the eaves of our porch for several weeks. We have a rule that once there are eggs in a nest, the bird family gets to stay until the babies fledge, but a bird's nest in that small space is a mess and a nuisance to everyone; I don't believe the birds really like having two humans, a dog, and a cat so near by. They just don't know it yet because the weather's been so yucky.

As such, we practice a form of avian contraception around here, knocking the sticks and grass down every day before anything gets established. Even so, this particular robin has shown considerable perseverance, returning day after day with blade after blade of dry grass. Until yesterday, I watched the mess she was making from the comfort of the living room, but early May is a good time to clean up the deck and start hardening off my seedlings, so I grabbed a pair of gloves, a broom, a roll of paper towels, and some 409 spray.

It was kind of gross out there; clumps of mud and strands of grass littered the area. The Adirondack chair in the corner looked as if had been shat upon by a billion birds, not just the one, and the cushion was a total loss-- first item into the garbage bag. Still I cleaned on, and it wasn't too long before the porch was a welcoming area of agriculture and relaxation.

This morning? That damn robin was back. I let the cat out there and chased her away personally several times, but I knew we would be knocking a nest down this evening.

When I got home tonight, though, I was unprepared however for the sheer amount of debris that was on that chair. It was covered in an entire range of miniature mountains of muck. Of one thing I was sure: no bird could possibly excrete so much in so little time. Had she have brought her whole freakin' flock for robin's revenge? Calling Alfred Hitchcock...

Turns out that when the soil is wet, as ours has been, female robins begin their nests. In addition to the obvious grass and twigs, beakful by beakful, they also carry approximately half a pound (half a pound!) of mud from the ground to the construction site. It takes your average robin hundreds of visits to build her nest, and we just happened to have one sloppy mud-bearer who dropped more on the chair than she placed in the eaves.

Of course all her hard work is gone now, swept away with the flick of a broom. I do feel a little bit guilty, but I comfort myself with the knowledge that, surely, natural selection is on my side.

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