T here was something in the driveway; a little lump of dark feathers and it wasn’t moving. Fearing the worst, I went to investigate. The lump was alive and looking lost.
Wearing plastic gloves, I picked up what turned out to be a fledgling robin and wrapped it in an old golf towel. No blood, no gore, not much movement. Okay, I asked myself, now what?
For the next two hours, the young robin and I bonded well–at least in one direction. And though our time together turned out to be short, my fine just-becoming-feathered friend managed to teach me a thing or two about loving and letting go. As the mother of a soon-to-be-21-year-old starting his senior year at college, the lesson was perfectly timed.
The first thing I had to learn, though, was how to care for a young bird that, from the looks of it, wasn’t doing so well on his own. Knowing that robins eat bugs and worms, I concocted a substitute for chewed-and-regurgitated fare. I grabbed a handful of cat treats, pounded them a few times with the meat tenderizer, and softened them with water. Voila—a protein-infused paste that I hoped would be palatable to “Ziggy”, so named in honor of Ziggy Stardust, of David Bowie fame.
Out I went into the backyard where I had nestled Ziggy in some cushy groundcover underneath the bird feeder (for company). He saw me and opened his mouth really wide; in went the paste, followed by a few dribbles of water. Suddenly I was Joy Adamson, feeding rescued lion cubs in the movie Born Free (if you don’t know it, click here for a trailer). Except this was a fledgling that had fallen from, or been pushed out of, its nest; if the latter, the culprit was probably his mother who didn’t want him to be living in her basement at age 35, watching Cartoon Network and eating microwavable nachos.
I fed Ziggy twice and then googled “rescuing robins.” Washington State’s department of environment conservation told me in no uncertain terms that my help probably wasn’t needed; that Ziggy needed to fend for himself. “But he’s just a baby!” I argued back to the computer screen (I work from home, alone most of the day except for the cat, so I can do that). Washington State also informed me that young robins need to be fed a lot. That meant more mashed cat treats, softened with water. Ziggy opened his beak as soon as he heard my voice.
After the third feeding, Ziggy was on his feet; after the fourth, he looked around at this big wide world, and after the fifth, he just walked away. And, I let him go.
As the Washington State website explained, this is nature’s way: the strongest survive and learn to fend for themselves; those that don’t make it, well, go watch The Lion King and learn about the circle of life. Ziggy disappeared into the groundcover between the ash tree and the rose of sharon bush before I could say “little robin red-breast sat upon a tree.”
Now, with the soundtrack of Born Free in my head, I imagine Ziggy feasting on bugs and worms, growing more feathers, and taking off into a light headwind. Perhaps he swoops by occasionally to thank the adoptive mother who helped him get his strength back by feeding him cat-treat mash. Or else, well, you know…
In either case, young Ziggy taught me a rather important lesson that applies to young of any species: at some point, you’ve got to let them go. My son is approaching the age I was when I left home for good. I moved 60 miles north, and then to New York City, and eventually to Chicago, where I live. My son’s life will take him in any number of directions, more than just measured by compass points.
Like Mother Robin, I have to encourage him to fly, and never hold him back. Brother Ziggy would want it that way.