What a Robin Sees (Spring edition)

I caught a Robin Redbreast red-handed: she was taking soil from a tray on the porch. She took my seedlings, too, but only to toss them aside. She was treating my lovingly planted seedtray as her personal mudpile. Robins need wet soil to make their nests. 

Most yards nearby are solid turgrass with no soil in sight, but even my yard’s bare patches aren’t useful to her: they are compressed with our walking, and cracked with no rain. 

So I sat on the porch and watched the tray.
She came, she stole, she flew across the street. 

Then I hid the tray under my chair. A moment later, the Robin was under my chair, too.

After that, I found a saucer to make a mudpile just for her. I put it where she’d first found the tray.
She came, she stole, but my mud was too runny. It slipped and slopped from her beak. It reminded me of the Passover story where the Israelite slaves had to make bricks from mud with no straw.

So I added real soil – not potting soil – and a handful of the random mess on the driveway: elm seeds, cedar needles, little chunks of bark, and short bits of dried grass. These gave the mud some bite, literally, and she could gather a big beakful each trip. 

The trip is directly across our busy street to the young hackberry twins, and the time between loads is about 2 minutes. When she returns, again and again, her breast feathers are muddy from where she’s used her body to shape the bowl of the nest. 

That’s when I check the birdbirth I’d filled at dawn, which is now nearly empty, and the color of chocolate milk. No, that’s too opaque. It is the color of a bottle of Yoo-hoo®.

So now I know exactly what it means when the birdbath is brown,
and when my seedlings are gone:
it’s time to give a Robin clean water and dirty straw.

[last year’s Robin nest. Blurry because I’m on a ladder trying to take a nest selfie with the front camera. But see the dried mud lining of the grass/twig cup?]


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Joanna Brichetto is a naturalist and writer in Nashville, the Hackberry-tree capital of the world.
She writes about everyday marvels amid everyday habitat loss at SidewalkNature.com and on Instagram (@Jo_Brichetto); and her essays have appeared in Creative NonfictionBrevity, Ecotone, Fourth Genre, Hippocampus, The Hopper, Flyway, The Common, The Fourth River, and other journals. An almanac of urban nature encounters is forthcoming.

5 thoughts on “What a Robin Sees (Spring edition)

  1. Loved 😍 this post! How very clever and observant of you to help this sweet robin with her nest building. Hope you’re rewarded with sightings of the young ones to come. We added the latest nest box down by the creek hoping to get an occupant… built to specifications to hopefully entice a Hooded Merganser or perhaps a Wood Duck. 🤞 We’ve already had the great good fortune to watch several batches of Swallows raise their families… the Chickadees needed a more secluded spot so they were more difficult to watch.
    Wishing your family-to-be great luck and joy to come! 🥰

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