News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

The tail of Christopher Robin

Walking across the front lawn, I almost stepped on a helpless fledgling bird laying spread-eagled, gazing up at me with a look that said, “Is this the end of my life?”

My first instinct was to protect it from being eaten by any number of local predators, most immediately one of our three cats. I assumed the little one had fallen from the tall juniper tree it was directly under but couldn’t see a nest or any other bird activity. We deduced by its size and speckled reddish-brown chest that it must be a robin, hatched in a nest on our property.

Cradling it in my hand, my first thought was to place it safely in our fenced outdoor garden. But it was a very hot summer day and I didn’t think it would survive for long. My wife, Sunni, and I decided that our only immediate recourse was to put it in a cat carrier and see if we could find information to help us keep it alive.

We turned to the Internet for advice, reading articles and watching videos of fledgling robins.

Next, I contacted two local, natural wild-bird organizations, one in Sisters and one in Bend.

Both parties were adamant about putting the baby back in the tree, preferably in the nest, and to “let nature take its course.” But since we were unable to find the nest, and there were no signs of a robin family in the tree, we decided to keep the bird alive as best we could with the hopes it would grow strong enough to fly off on its own.

Now that we were responsible for this little one, we needed to rely on information from the Internet, from our local experts, and our own best instincts, to keep it alive until it could fend for itself. It turns out, they need to be fed every half hour or so, so we had to get busy!

It was obvious that its big orange mouth was designed for receiving large quantities of food.

As we see robins pulling up earthworms regularly on our lawn and pasture, we set about frantically digging all around the property looking for worms. The robins obviously know much more about finding worms; we couldn’t find any. Off to Ace Hardware for night crawlers (live bait worms). Indeed, the robin knew just what to do with a worm dangled in front of its gapping mouth, snatching it from my fingers and gulping it down. For the next few days we also supplemented with some of our garden strawberries and other bird-type foods.

We couldn’t tell if it was male or female, but the name “Christopher Robin” seemed to fit. After a couple of days of feeding and with prodding from the local wild bird experts, I put Christopher up in a nearby tree. He sat there very contentedly until he got hungry, which was often. If he saw one of us outside, down he would come walking over to us with a little Charlie Chaplin in his step.

Here we were, bonding with the bird — exactly what the experts warned us against.

It was too late.

At this point we decided, rightly or wrongly, that we had to continue helping this little guy mature to the point where he could protect himself and return to the wild.

Every day we could see a remarkable change in his growth of feathers, size, and understanding of living in a bird’s body.

His tail, while very short in the beginning, grew noticeably each day.

He was able to fly short hops and increasingly longer distances, down from his branch and beyond.

Instead of putting worms or other food in his mouth, we now put it on the ground, hoping that he would learn to look to the earth for his sustenance instead of the two big pink creatures that were his current source of food.

A week into our time together, Christopher Robin joined us as usual, walking over from his tree for dinner at our outdoor table. After dinner, and after his fill of worms, instead of letting me put him back on his branch, he turned around and walked the 150 feet back to his tree and disappeared. It was clear something had changed. The next morning, he was nowhere to be found. While we were both concerned, we had a deeper sense that he was all right.

Two days later, I heard chirping at the far end of the pasture. I followed the sound to a juniper tree where an adult robin took flight as I approached. Perched in the tree was a maturing robin, exhibiting a little more developed wings and longer tail feathers than Christopher had when I last saw him. He sat there calmly. We looked at one another for some time until I “heard” him say, “I have to go now and be a bird.”

And off he flew.

I like to think that if I find another fledgling bird, I’m going to put it in its nest, if possible, or high up in a tree branch, and “let nature take its course.”

We’ll see!

I didn’t set out to form an intimate bond with a robin. I have watched robins on our property from afar for 30 years. The short time I spent with Christopher Robin transcended the experience of caring for a baby bird. My relationship to them has changed forever. Life continuously provides ample opportunities for us to learn from our natural world. This was one of those times. I had the gift of forming a connection with a kindred “earth being” that brought me more in touch with our essential, inseparable, deep and powerful relationship with nature.


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