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June 11, 2013 > Pat Kite's Garden: Robin Redbreast

Pat Kite's Garden: Robin Redbreast

By Pat Kite

Robin Redbreast is poking around in my yard. Perhaps he is looking for insects, earthworms, berries, and bits of fruit. His paramour is elsewhere. Her chest is less red, better for camouflage. Have baby robins already hatched? Probably.

The only time I have seen a baby robin is at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Newark. It sort of looks like a small adult, but has more chest speckles. A robin's cup-shaped nest is made of grasses, twigs and mud. Sometimes string and bits of rag complete the dˇcor. Females do most of the construction work, and sit solitude on the light blue eggs for almost two weeks.

Babies usually number about four, and males chip in with baby feeding. If the female decides to build another nest, the males can be stuck with the entire youth feeding program. As they mature, the brood demands about three pounds of food. The last day in the nest, each young robin will devour 14-feet of earthworms. This makes a very busy parent! However after a month, the young can take care of themselves.

But not only is there now a second nest, in time there may be a third one. "Tuk, tuk, tuk, cheeryup cheerily," Robin sings. An optimist perhaps, and usually first to serenade in the early mornings.

How did the Robin get its red breast? Legend has that it injured itself trying to pull out a thorn from Christ's crown of thorns. The blood stained the Robin's breast red. Another tale has the Robin nesting near the site of Jesus' birth. The shepherds made a fire for warmth, but left it for a moment and the bird flew down to fan the flames. The red flames flared upward, casting their light on the bird and that color never left the robin.

Of course, with this dedicated background, killing a robin is supposed to be super bad luck. The Farmer's Weekly, in 1974, quotes a warning, "you'll end up with a broken leg or arm." Not only that, but the hand that did the killing will shake ever afterward, and get a big lump on it besides. And should you have the temerity to take eggs from a Robin's nest, misfortune is your deserved fate.

Poems about Robins are more fun. In 1400, someone wrote about Robin's love affair with a wren. This ditty turned up in the 1800s: "Cock Robin got up early, at the break of day, and went to Jenny's window to sing a roundelay. He sang Cock Robin's love to little Jenny Wren, and when he got unto the end, then he began again. "Tuk, tuk, tuk, cheeryup, cheerily."

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