04 May 2006


Baby birds are guarding our mailbox.

A few weeks ago, we noticed that a fat robin had poorly-assembled a pile of twigs and string on a front-porch ledge just above the brass box which collects our mail. Within a day, the wind and rain had blown the nest away. But the robin was determined and rebuilt her perch, much sturdier this time, with twine and branches from all around the neighborhood.

She sat upon the nest for several days, fluffed up and proud, glaring at us each time we opened the door or peered at her from between the blinds. I named the bird Roberta. She became our third pet (kind of) and I greeted her every morning. I wondered if the glowing porch light that stays on at night had disrupted her rest or caused her to see annoying spots whenever she blinked.

After many days of watching her sit in her bowl-shaped abode, I opened the door one afternoon and noticed that Roberta was gone. Three baby beaks were poking up from the nest like tiny birthday hats. I discovered a few bits of eggshell the color of a Tiffany’s box scattered in the grass, and soon Roberta swooped in from the yard with worms and bugs clinging to her beak. I felt all congratulatory.

The next day, everything changed. I stepped out to retrieve the mail, and suddenly two squawking robins darted toward my head from a nearby tree. It was Roberta and her man, a skinny but ferocious looking bird who was clearly on a mission to protect his triplets. Roberta was our friendly, feathered pet no more. Visions of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds flashed through my mind as I fled inside clutching my Crate and Barrel catalog and fumbling to hold onto a stack of bills. I needed the mail, but surely it wasn’t worth getting my eyes poked out like Tippi Hedren.

This went on for a few more days. I'd snatch the mail and run inside, dodging a fury of red feathers and loud chirps that I can only assume were profanities in bird-talk. The passport I ordered for our trip to Europe did not arrive, and I am starting to think Roberta might be responsible. I would not blame the postman for opting to chuck our mail in a nearby gutter to avoid getting pummeled.

So we have started taking our dog with us to the mailbox now. It has become a rehearsed event as we line up and embark outside as a family, a hyper Jack Russell terrier as the first line of defense. Now that we out-number them, Mr. and Mrs. Roberta don't come quite so close to our faces, and the adrenaline associated with grabbing our phone bill has subsided a bit. I’ve also been able to get a good peek at the babies, who seem to have quadrupled in size in a matter of days. They are plump and covered with feathers now, and they glare at us too as they stretch their necks in search of a wiggly snack.

Even though our front porch has turned into a daily battlefield of sorts, there has been something intriguing about watching the birds and seeing how similar they are to humans. I think it's fascinating that the dad-bird sticks around as protector, while the mother dashes off in search of food and then returns to feed and keep her babies warm. A little family.

And as long as they let us have our mail, I guess we'll let the Robins remain in their front porch apartment until they're ready to fly away one day.