A longtime wildlife watcher, April Paul of Clinton was overjoyed this spring when a pair of robins constructed a nest underneath her porch. Over the past few weeks, she has carefully documented the birds’ lives — from nest building to laying eggs to raising their hatchlings.
By strategically placing her mobile phone so its camera lens is between the deck boards, she’s been able to capture some truly amazing photos and videos of the robin family. And through Instagram and Facebook, she’s been able to share her experience with family and friends — and now, you.
“It’s cool to have an eagle’s-eye view of the nest right through the deck boards,” Paul said. “If I hadn’t been working from home or looking out the window, I may have not put the pieces together and this could be going on without my knowledge. I could be out there sitting on the deck and have no idea.”
Paul works at a college library, and during the coronavirus pandemic has been working from home. The change of lifestyle has given her the opportunity to observe wildlife in her yard even more than she usually does. On May 15, she noticed a robin hopping around her lawn with a clump of dry grass in its mouth. She then watched it fly underneath her porch, and she couldn’t help but investigate.
“Sure enough, there was a whole bunch of dead grass and other nest building material laid out on a board,” Paul said. “So of course I got very excited and checked on it each day. It took, I think, two or three days before the nest was complete. Then the first egg was laid just a few days later.”
American robins lay one egg a day for an average clutch of three to five eggs. Paul’s robin laid four.
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“Basically I’ve been in robin heaven since then,” she said.
The first baby robin hatched exactly two weeks after the first egg was laid, Paul said. It was followed by three more hatchlings — tiny peach-colored bodies with no feathers and closed eyes.
Though Paul enjoys monitoring the nest and taking occasional photos of the hatchlings, she doesn’t want to scare the family away or cause them harm. When her family sits out on the deck, they give the area space.
“We’ve learned if we’re sitting out there, as long as not directly on the floorboards above the nest, it doesn’t really bother them,” she said.
If she wants to take a photo or video, she’s careful not to spook the parents from the nest. Instead, she waits until they’ve flown off to hunt before approaching. Such was the scenario on June 4, when she captured an especially interesting video.
“I just laid my phone down on the deck [with the camera lens] aimed between the floorboards and hit record,” she said. “Then I went back to work and was kind of keeping an eye out for the mom to come back.”
Paul waited more than 20 minutes, then retrieved her phone and watched the footage. From it, she extracted a 1-minute clip that shows one of the adult robins feeding the hatchlings. (Both the male and female will feed their offspring, and they’re so similar in appearance that it’s challenging to tell them apart.)
The video starts with a high-pitched trill from the adult robin before it swoops in and lands on the nest. Paul believes that the call notified the hatchlings that it was time for feeding. The tiny newborn birds then lifted their heads and opened their yellow beaks wide as the adult fed them what appeared to be bright green worms (or caterpillars or grubs).
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Just seconds later, the baby birds defecated, producing little white fecal sacs that the adult instantly plucked up and consumed. This may seem unhealthy, but it’s actually the opposite. The practice ensures the nest stays clean, and the fecal sac contains some nutrients for adult robins. However, as the babies grow older and develop more bacteria in their digestive system, the parents start to carry away the sacs rather than eat them, according to an educational article by Journey North, a citizen science program based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum.
When Paul witnessed the act, she wasn’t surprised. Back when the robins started building their nest, she conducted some research to learn more about the species.
“I remember reading that as soon as the babies poop, the mom eats it,” she said. “If I hadn’t known that, when I saw the video, I would have been like, ‘What in the world?’”
She also read that robins like fruit and berries.
“I leave some blueberries out there every morning as a sort of peace offering,” she said.
She even cuts the berries in half. And every day, they disappear.
Paul has been regularly posting her robin photos and videos on her Instagram page, @april_loves_daisy, which also features her rottweiler, Daisy. The young birds are growing quickly and developing more feathers each day. On average, baby robins remain in their nest for just 13 days before taking flight. Paul hopes they will return next year.
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