Every year for nearly a decade, robins built a nest atop the porch light at my back door. There is a permanent stain on the clapboards where successive nests touched the house, and every May my family avoided the back door and only entered and exited through the front. This spring, for no reason that I could discern, the nest moved from the porch light in the back of the house to the one in the front. From a bird perspective (although I cannot really speak for the birds), this seems a better place. The roof overhang is larger in the front, and the door is actually in a sheltered alcove. As a result, the front porch light provides greater protection from wind, rain, and late spring snow. There is the street noise to contend with, but I live on a quiet dead end street.
During all of my years in Wisconsin, robins have been one of the constants. They were here when I was a kid, and they were here when I left at the age of twenty-one. They again welcomed me when I moved back at the age of thirty-nine and, with the possible exception of house sparrows, remain the most common bird in my neighborhood. They are the state bird of Wisconsin, and I have never lived anywhere in the state where I didn’t see robins almost every day from late March until October. As I kid, I believed robins were the first sign of spring, although I now realize some stay around all winter. In the years between my two long Wisconsin stints, I remember living in states where the official state bird was not as ubiquitous (e.g., loons in Minnesota, California quail in California) and thinking it a little bit odd.
Each year some small robin incident adds a little color to my life. A fledgling somehow gets over the chicken wire that surrounds my garden, but then gets trapped inside. A wind storm takes out a nest, but early enough in the season that the parents start over from scratch. I wake up one morning, and inexplicably there is an undamaged robin’s egg on the hard glass surface of my patio furniture. My favorite is the year a robin grabbed one end of the spool of kite string I was using to mark the rows in my garden. It flew over the peak of my house and left a trail of string from my roof, through my birch tree, to a big maple across the street and three doors down. Rather than retrieve the string, I left it dangling over the road until one of the neighbors complained.
The point is that my personal experience with this particular species has depth to it because I observe it year after year. It is not that I study robins; I’ve probably read more about California condors than I have robins, and I’ve never seen a condor. Robins are a part of daily life.