Robin fledgling on the back of a brown, woven chair, green spring foliage in the background.
A robin fledgling sits on my garden chair.

Opening the garden door this morning to another sunny, steamy, Philadelphia day, everything lush, green and growing, it takes me a moment to notice the small bird perched on top of my garden chair.  It’s very still.  It seems to be breathing hard.  I can walk right up to it and it doesn’t move.

“It’s hurt!” I think, “it needs help!”  I phone my friend Celia, who knows all there is to know about who does what in Philadelphia.  “Who can help me with an injured bird?” I asked.  “You’re the fourth person in two days to call me about an injured bird,” she replies.  “Don’t get upset, but if it’s injured and small, the mother has probably kicked it out of the nest and it won’t survive.”

I move to the back door as we talk, looking at the little gal (or guy) perched out there, its head up and slightly tilted, still as can be.  Suddenly, an adult robin appears and lands on my garden umbrella.

“The mother’s here!” I tell Celia.  In the next moment, the mother robin flies down to the garden chair.  The little bird’s mouth opens and the mother pops in some food.  Then she flies away.

“Ok,” said Celia, “so it’s a fledgling, and it’s not injured.  The mother’s still taking care of it so it should be fine.”  A web search a moment later gives the same answer.  Fledglings spend a few days getting used to their environment and trying out their flying while Mom sticks close by with food and encouragement.  The mother might dive-bomb you if you get too close.  Yeah, she looks as though she would.

I close the back door most of the way and make breakfast while nature takes its course outdoors.  When I look out again, the little bird is gone.  Yea!  All is well.  A few moments later, I hear a commotion in my mud room.  The fledgling is in there.

“What are you doing in here?” I say out loud, as my dog Lucy comes running, “you’re supposed to be moving on!”  I stop Lu in her tracks, close off the mud room, and make some reasonable suggestions to my fledgling.  “Go outside — your Mom’s out there.  She’ll help you.”  But the little bird is behind the door and she isn’t budging.  Time for another phone call.

The person at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education tells me I can pick the bird up if I want to, and it will be fine.  Ok so.  I approach my little buddy very carefully, explaining my intentions as clearly as possible.  I gently close my hands around its tiny body, thinking “yes, I can do this,” but the bird thinks otherwise.   There is flapping; there is shitting.  There is me backing quickly away.

During the kerfuffle, however, my fledgling has hopped herself around to the right side of the open door.  She pauses at the threshold and I shoo her out.  A few moments later I see her hopping cheerfully behind her mother in the long grass, getting fed, and trying out some preliminary flying moves on the trellis.  The mother comes and goes.  The little bird explores.  I keep the dogs away.  It’s all going to be fine.

“It’s just a transition,” I think.  You need a bit of time for the big ones.  A bit of space, a bit of help.  Staying still for awhile and thinking about your next move doesn’t mean you’re injured.  Sometimes inaction is the wisest course.

Later I see my fledgling sitting quietly on the trellis.  Every so often the mother lands, feeds her and leaves.  Still later, she is gone; not on the trellis, not in the grass.  She’s made her decision.  Another one launched into the world.