Man vs. Beast—A Battle of Wills


A american robin bird

American robin (Wikipedia)

A sure sign of mid-spring around our house is not only the blossoming rhododendrons, camellias and pink dogwood, but the appearance of the robin. At this time of year, they seem to be everywhere, flitting about overhead, hopping around on the ground and feeding on grub, and chirping loudly when you get near. This is the breeding season.

We have a gazebo in our backyard. It is built on eight 6×6 posts, squared off at the tops, which means that they provide the perfect platform on which to build nests, with a bonus of a roof overhead—a palatial estate by robin standards. Every year, robins find a perfect home in our gazebo and immediately go about the task of setting up the nursery. Both female and male robins supposedly take on the task of nest-building, but I can’t tell an avian Adam from Eve, so it appears as if one bird is the intruder. Letting birds alone is usually not a problem for me. Heck, robins have built beautiful nests on top of the posts that hold up the deck. No problemo. Free rent, as far as I was concerned.

The problem is that the gazebo also happens to shelter the outdoor patio furniture in the wet months and the rattan chairs that stay there all year long. The conflict is not colocation of bird and rattan per se but the poop. Ever try cleaning up dried-up bird feces from rattan? The yuck gets embedded in the weave. It’s no picnic, I guarantee you. It’s not easy to clean off dried excreta from the deck, even with a stiff bristle brush. A good hydro-washing will take care of it.

This year, I decided to fight back. No more poop in the gazebo!

The first signs of nest-building are pretty clear. A robin or robins start flying into the gazebo. Furthermore, at the foot of the chosen post, telltale debris—twigs, moss, mud and grass that fell during frenzied nest-building—begins to accumulate. I wondered, why doesn’t she (I’ll use the feminine singular because she has the most invested in a nest, and I don’t know if there really is more than one bird) just re-use the stuff instead of flying off in search of more?

My first plan of attack was simply to show myself. Would it be enough to scare the bird away? There was a lot of complaining, yes, a retreat into the safety of surrounding trees, but she came back and continued on her merry way.

Plan B was to make some noise on approach. Ride of the Valkyries. No change.

Time to take more extreme measures. Broom in hand, I swept the proto-nest off the post tops. She would watch me at a safe distance in disgust, but come right back and start rebuilding. This went on for an amazing two days, back and forth, a battle of wills. Man vs. beast. On the second day, the bird changed tactics. She picked a different post. I began to wonder why an animal would continue with home-building while facing a clear and present “danger.” My wife commented that the nesting instinct must be very strong, which I (being male?) would never have thought of.

Little did the robin know that something else was beginning to happen.

Little by little, guilt was creeping in. Each post-top clearing became less committed than the last. There grew a gnawing feeling that I was being a jerk, a James Watt, an enemy of nature, an unrepentant materialist who valued private property over the idea of a shared world. And I was beginning to have some respect for this persistent and driven creature. I admired that she defied a human with a pest control contract and Google search engine, to build a nest that had to support her fledglings for up to four weeks.

I gave in. The robin prevailed. And by yesterday morning, there was a fully formed nest.

Nest on the gazebo post

Nest on the gazebo post

My wife and I spread a plastic tarp, big enough to cover all the furniture. All the rustling scared the robin away, of course. Afterward, I waited. And waited. She didn’t show for the longest time. Did the bird finally get driven away? Was the presence of the tarp a discomfiting environmental change? I underestimated her. She came back but not for long. Home and harasser out of the way, she flew off to do other things, probably to gorge herself on food. Soon, she’ll be settling into her nest to lay her eggs. The balance of Nature has been restored. The Seahawks will win the Super Bowl.

This morning, I found the nest on the gazebo floor.

Fallen nest

Fallen nest

It must have fallen during the night. For an inexplicable reason, she never came back. I was actually sad. Was I to blame or was there another, more serious danger? If I hadn’t interfered, would there have been more time to build a proper nest?

Next year, I plan to top the 6x6s will pyramidal post caps. The robins need to find another place and spare me the guilt. I might even hang arrows pointing to the deck posts.

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5 thoughts on “Man vs. Beast—A Battle of Wills

  1. This is a very good story. I can see it as a small children’s book. I can see you were frustrated but as usual your pictures are so fine.
    We have been putting food out for three adventurous squirrels and jim and I went to Seaview for three days and found when we returned our pets had upended their dish and it was time to feed on. We both enjoy them as we eat our meals. They have separate personalities. I like the tiny Chocolate brown smaller one. Jim is macho but has a soft side where they are concerned. Their nests are skyscrapers in the huge firs here. This lovely sun is so fine for May free of rain.
    Thanks for the robin. Shay and Jim

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    • Thanks. We have squirrels running around in the trees and our deck. I understand that squirrels are a robin’s enemy because they can eat the eggs. I saw one creeping near the gazebo after we gave in and let the robin be. I also wonder if that had something to do with the robin’s disappearance.

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  2. Pingback: Man vs. Beast—Part 2 | zoomeboshi

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