A few weeks ago, we noticed a pair of robins exploring home sites along the beam that supports our deck. Mrs. Robin would perch on the beam, then sit, then turn around several times and sit again, as if trying the place on for size. She did this repeatedly, while Mr. Robin sat nearby, waiting for her to make up her mind.
The next day, they began building. Actually, though we assumed this was a joint project, we only saw her at work. She would flutter up to the beam with a beak full of sticks or grass, poke them into the pile of stuff already there, then press down with her breast, circling around and around to create the inner bowl of the nest. It took at least one full day, and countless trips, to accumulate enough material to build the nest about three inches high and shape it to her specifications.
Over the next few days, any trip down the basement steps automatically included a stop to look out the patio door and check on the robin. During one of her brief times away from the nest—presumably for a quick trip to the earthworm aisle of the nearest grocery store—we peeked with a mirror and saw one small blue egg. A couple of weeks later we saw what looked like two little heads above the rim of the nest.
It's been a rainy spring, and from time to time we wondered how Mrs. Robin was coping with all the wet weather. True, the nest was underneath the deck, but plenty of water must have been coming through the half-inch gaps between the floor boards. One afternoon, during a cold, heavy downpour, it occurred to me that I could have given her a little more shelter by simply moving a big flower pot so it covered the nest.
It may have been a good idea, but it came a little late. The next day we saw Mrs. Robin on the power line that comes into the house. She had half a worm in her beak, but she wasn't eating it. She was simply sitting. We decided she must have been taking a break from the kids, enjoying a few minutes of solitude. This made us wonder how many kids she had and how big they were by now, so we took our mirror downstairs for a quick look.
The nest was empty.
We were sure the baby robins weren't old enough to have left home. Besides, we hadn't seen any fledglings out on the grass. We looked beneath the nest for little bodies, but all we found was the broken shell of one tiny blue egg.
What happened to the baby robins? The rainstorm? The cold? A neighborhood cat? Or did they even hatch? Who knows?
Had this particular pair of robins found a different site for their nest, we would never have noticed or cared when the babies came or when they disappeared. But, because we had a window into their lives, we did notice. We came to think of them as our robins—not our property, exactly, but as neighbors whose comings and goings we cared about.
We still see Mr. and Mrs. Robin around the yard. So far, though, the nest has remained empty. Either they've decided not to start over with another clutch of eggs, or they've built another nest in a better location. It probably doesn't matter much in the grand scheme of things. Still, we would like to know.