Early one morning last May a small group of birders that I was with were walking through Alley Pond Park, when we saw a robin just off the path. It was about 12 feet above the ground in a cup-shaped nest incubating eggs. We paused for a few seconds while the robin kept an eye on us. As this was too delicate a time to agitate a soon-to-be parent we kept walking. It was an exciting and mysterious moment; nature was sending out light green buds to change the landscape while birds' DNA was driving them to procreate. It wouldn't be the only time that season that I'd be paying close attention to a robin.
A little more than three weeks later, while hiking the Greenbelt trail I again saw just off the path the same shaped nest at the same height. This nest was however empty. Any eggs it may have contained must have hatched by now and I wondered what newly born robins looked like. I wasn't going to have to wait long to find out.
A half-hour later getting back to my house, I saw a small robin on our lawn, hopping up an incline like a tiny kangaroo, Its wings were short and held so tightly against its side that it looked wingless. An adult robin went into the shade of some bushes and came out holding a grub in its yellow bill. The youngster went straight to the parent who deftly transferred the prize to the youngster's bill into which it immediately disappeared. I watched the youngster's fuzz ball head as it followed its meal ticket into the shade.
A short while later the adult and fledgling were on our patio where I was able to look at the youngster and listen to its calls for 30 minutes. The adult was on the rim of a large empty flowerpot and the chick hopped then flew up inches to the rim. The adult left and I was standing within ten feet of the fledgling. Through binoculars the first thing that I saw were rows of yellow cilia-like hairs on the side of its head. The chick's bill wasn't yet long and there was a white line at the base. The small bird had a buffy, almost yellow eye ring. Soon it was opening its bill and letting out three short notes. If it was calling for the adult to bring a tasty grub, it was going to wait a long time.
As the bird's calls became more frequent and squeaky I got a long close-up view of its breast, which appeared to be rust colored and would become richly so when it matured. There were white specks all over the chick's shoulders and back. It had lost its fuzz ball appearance but was still scruffy looking. The tail was then short but would become longer and the bill which was bright yellow only at the tip would become fully so as an adult. As the squeaky calls kept coming I saw its open bill revealing a yellow mouth. The youngster was restless. It sounded three higher more urgent notes. Soon it emitted several, short, high loud, harsh notes. Soon the calls became even stronger.
The adult probably wanted the fledgling to come to it, not vice versa. The youngster had limited flight ability but was probably past the stage where mom or dad would bring it food. I don't know how long the chick kept up its calling because I had to leave for a few minutes and when I returned it was gone.
In the next two weeks I sporadically saw the fledgling. It is getting around in the world by foot. I wondered how long it will be before it could fly? On Independence Day, July 4th I got my answer. The fledgling and what turned out to be another but more advanced fledgling were on the lawn by the side of our house with an adult. As I walked toward them they flew a short distance to a nearby tree. Minutes later it was there again this time with two other fledglings. It walked up the cement walkway and stood in front of a pine needle bush that had some rust colored needles. I looked at it nearly in amazement. The bird's white and brown striated breast blended with the cream color of the cement while the rust on its sides made it partially indecipherable from the burnt pine needles. The bird then flew to the roof of my car just beyond the bush where it stood for a while. It had really matured. Would it be long before it was requesting the car keys?
The next evening when I walked up the steps to my house, there was a loud rustling in the adjacent bushes. With wings beating excitedly two robins, the fledgling and a slightly larger one emerged from the cover of the bushes and flew across the street. They were like teenagers caught where they shouldn't be. That made me smile but it also was the last that I saw of my fledgling.
This spring while walking the Greenbelt Trail I saw a robin on a log. Its eye looked like a tiny black marble surrounded by an area of molten white and seemed to have a primordial quality. Looking into its eye I wondered how long it would be before this robin or a mate would be sitting in cup-like nest, like the one that I saw last spring, incubating eggs.