It’s just not the same this spring; I don’t have the same sense of anticipation as I had just a few short months ago. And, it’s all down to the disappearance a month ago of my pal, the boss of the yard, Fuzz. Those of you who have read this blog for awhile will know Fuzz as he has been a constant presence, on the blog and in the garden, from about 2010/2011. He’s been the boss pretty much from a young chick when he gained his name, Fuzz, from the shedding of his baby feathers. Shortly after acquiring his adult plumage, we noted his distinguishing characteristic, what would help us always mark him out: what appeared to be a scar of some kind under his eye. Later, his sheer bossiness and watchfulness over us would be his most noticeable characteristics.
Because he was there when we got up in the morning, when we went in at night, when we came home from wherever we had been for the day, even when waking up in the morning (he’d be out singing in the trees-loudly), we learned more about robins, indeed more about birds. He even changed our habits of a weekend: for the most part we were morning loungers and readers in doors. But Fuzz forced us out of bed earlier and out into the conservatory. True, we were mostly reading, but also spending a lot of time watching his antics and those of the other birds.
Last summer, we enjoyed watching him take on the duties of being a husband and father. And he was pretty good at it by all accounts, because at one point we had 5 chicks of various ages from various clutches. Mind, he could be pretty fierce with them, especially when he went about booting them all out of the garden once he grew his feathers back in late autumn. They did try his patience throughout the summer even after they could feed themselves, especially when he was molting and trying to catch a sun bath in various spots in the garden. But once he had a new coat of feathers-and acquired a new distinguishing characteristic, a fanned tail- he was back, baby, with a vengeance.
We had a sense that not all went quietly, because when the dust or feathers settled, another robin had commandeered the hazel tree, the area around the garage and the wooded area beyond. At first, we thought, hoped, it might be Mrs Fuzz, and that they would unite their little kingdoms come spring. This robin sang and defended its territory, all things a female robin will do over the autumn and winter months. In fact, when there was an influx of other robins in the winter around the yard trying to get at the food, Fuzz and Mrs Fuzz would coordinate their chases: he would pursue up to her borders where she would take over seeing off the intruder the rest of the way.
We were hoping eventually to see a bit of courtship which is often intiated by the female in robin world. Supposedly, their little sex organs shrivel up (and no, not just from the cold) in winter, so essentially every robin is an enemy. This is why the male especially is a little confused in late winter: robin males can be dubbas about these things for he thinks she wants his food, -yeah there some of that- but mostly she wants his body. And she will fight off the rest of the competition for it.
So, when we saw the conflicts with the other robins we thought it might be other females looking to attach themselves to the most eligible robin around. But then one day in February, two robins, granted a few feet apart, were sitting in the hazel tree, and one of them wasn’t Fuzz. We knew what this detente was: engaged to mate robins. At first they act like they don’t know each other, but the clue is in the fact that they are within proximity, around food, tolerating each other.
So where was Fuzzie’s mate? Had this other robin been Mrs Fuzz? One of the kids he couldn’t shake? Or a totally foreign robin? And was the new mate foreign or a Fuzz offspring? At any rate, Fuzz was now fighting not only the other foreigners who were still in the garden, but this new pair off the food. He needed a lot of energy, and we made sure he got extra snacks throughout the day. We had not nurtured hin throughout the winter to see him vanquished by a couple of no marks.
And then, lo and behold, at the end of Feb, his princess came. We knew he was in love when he was barely tolerating another robin and fiercely defending her against the other pair. He even had enough time and energy to loudly voice his protests to us and the landscaper when were were trimming a hedge late winter. His energy never seemed to flag; he was continuously chasing the other pair off the food, out of his territory, some times making physical contact. There was a lot of loud singing around his territory at the tops of trees, a lot of clicking. And then a lot of loud singing on the ground, his beak pointed in the air, a prelude to being extra fierce with the intruder couple. We never saw them challenge him. The only thing I saw that caused me a little concern was his coughing up food every once in a while.
One Thursday morning at the beginning of March, he was waiting outside as usual and then seeing off his rivals. I had to go to a meeting, but he was there when I came back in early afternoon. He disappeared around mid-afternoon, not unusual for him. But, then he wasn’t there at dusk. And we haven’t seen him since.
We have a few theories. Maybe the pair saw him off. But then the new Mrs Fuzz continued to appear for a while afterwards, only to be run off by the new pair. We don’t think she would have done that if he had just moved off to another garden (perhaps we are wrong?). We think it more likely that he might have been carried off by the sparrowhawk that has been frequenting the garden since winter. Fuzz did have a near miss with one–I saw the sparrowhawk swoop down and Fuzz narrowly avoid capture. A cat (we have a few neighbourhood ones of massive size) could have caried him off. He could have become sick. We looked in the fields out back, in the woods adjacent to see if we could find a little body. Nothing.
I’m a bit embarassed to acknowledge how much I miss him. He was like our little pet (or rather we were his). Everything we know about birds, wildlife is down to him because he forced us to look, not just at him (well, mostly at him) but everything around him. The bees have done this also (he wasn’t exactly pleased that the bees got some of our attention), but Fuzz more so. Now, it’s just a garden full of strangers. We still feed them and enjoy their antics, but it’s not the same because they are strangers.
It’s true that little ones seem to attract a lot of paraphernalia to keep them healthy and happy. This is no less true with little, fuzzy, reptilian ones. Last summer we bought Fuzz a nesting box which Mrs Fuzz disdained in favor of ones of her own construction and location. I have tried to discover why British robins are supposed to like open-fronted boxes but have not been successful.
Something else we acquired were roosting pouches which we positioned at various spots around the garden. We are not sure whether Fuzz or any bird for that matter ever used them. Initially, we had put some cotton padding in them, you know extra warmth for the Fuzzy one. What we did discover was the cotton half hanging out of some of them with bird poop on them. So, we don’t know if birds actually used the pouches, pooped on the cotton, and when trying to leave, perhaps pulled some of the cotton with them. Or did bigger birds try to pull the cotton out of them? Don’t know.