Robins have been one of my favorite birds since I was a little girl. Each spring I'm reminded of something that would forever impact my understanding of environmental responsibility. Long before it was hip to be "green," decades before global warming was part of our everyday vocabularies, Robbie Robin was an early and dramatic lesson in my little-girl world. He was my awakening from environmental unconsciousness. I still get teary-eyed remembering him.
My mom found Robbie one spring when I was six years old. She had mixed feelings about interfering with nature. But in our neighborhood most house cats were indoor/outdoor cats, and baby birds fallen from their nests whose parents weren't nearby stood little chance of surviving more than an hour or two.
There were lots of mature trees in our north-side neighborhood, and no shortage of babies fallen from their nests. We children whose eyes were still so full of wonder and so close to the ground found naked babies barely breathing or already dead and carefully scooped them up to bring home to our mom. We hoped for miracles. At least if they died which they usually did, we'd given them a safe, warm, peaceful place to die instead of in the jaws of a cat. Mom would help us find a little box when we had the solemn duty of burying the casualties.
Robbie was one of the few who'd had a chance, and our family again set about the serious business of baby bird rescue and rehabilitation. Mom called the Little Red Schoolhouse nature center for advice on how to take care of our new baby. We fed him raw hamburger, cut-up worms, mashed boiled eggs, and water from an eyedropper. Mom made him a soft, warm fabric nest in a box where he mostly slept when he wasn't hungry.
After two months of tender care, Robbie's flight feathers were growing longer and our parents decided it was time for him to get used to the outdoors. What better place could there have been than our landlord's fenced vegetable garden? It was a confined space where Robbie could exercise his wings. He loved it in there. He hopped all around and pecked at the soil, often still wet from dew or an early-morning sprinkling. He loved it in the garden and the damp soil was perfect for learning to hunt worms.
We don't know exactly when he started to get sick. The first sign was his legs becoming first pink, later red and swollen. He didn't seem like himself. Mom called the Little Red Schoolhouse for advice. After she got off the phone and gave us the devastating news, she had to deal with not only her own heartbreak, but the sorrow of her five children as well.
It seemed our beloved Robbie had been poisoned by the chemicals our landlord was spraying on his garden. We didn't know he was spraying, and he didn't think it was important enough to mention when he gave permission for Robbie to play in the garden. I remember how angry and sad we were. Who sprays poison on a backyard garden where children are playing??? It was then I first remember my parents talking about one day having a home and yard of our own.
Robbie's condition worsened. His head got wobbly. He couldn't stand up. Finally, he couldn't eat anymore. He lived only a week after we noticed his legs. We made him as comfortable as we could. Even the Little Red Schoolhouse couldn't help us save him. We buried him in the backyard in the nesting box we'd spent many vigilant hours lovingly guarding.
Losing Robbie broke my 6-year-old heart, made me angry, and awoke my environmental consciousness. Four years later my parents made their home-owning dreams come true. We remembered Robbie as we planted and tended our own garden and our mom taught us the joys of organic gardening. I'll never forget, and am forever grateful for the lessons learned from Robbie Robin.