Lunacy in the Springtime

In some places, I’m told, the robin is the first sign that spring has arrived.

In our yard, we get robins all year round, so we have to look for other
signs of spring. However, this year, we may have to institute the robin as
our first sign of major mental illness.

It was quiet at first. Just a soft thudding at lunch time, every few minutes.
“Do you hear that?” Eric asked me. I am notoriously bad at hearing strange
noises in the house, but Eric hears all. But this one even I could hear. Thud.
Thud. Thud.

Eric went and investigated. He returned a short time later. “There’s a robin
flying against the window,” he explained.

This was OK. Usually we worry that our strange household noises are coming
from horrible house-eating creatures in the crawl space that we will have
to hire expensive specialists to come out and eradicate for us. On the scale
of household worry, a bird flying against the window is just not all that

But this bird seemed particularly persistent. All through the afternoon
he flew against the windows. Quoth the robin: thud. There were two windows
he seemed particularly fond of: the laundry room window, and the big window
in the master bathroom. Why he picked these two windows, we don’t know. But
he stuck to those two windows. If you chased him away from one, he would just
go to the other.

Eric used to be a wildlife biologist (a background that makes him eminently
qualified to write security software), and said that in the center he used
to work they would put silhouettes of hawks in the windows and that this would
discourage the birds from flying into them. And so we had craft day: Eric
drew me a hawk and I cut it out of construction paper and taped it to the
windows that the robin liked to fly into.

This did no good at all, if anything, it made it worse. The tempo of the
thudding increased, and rather than coming on for a few hours each day began
to start in the vicinity of six in the morning and go on for most of the day
and into the night. The robin was determined; he would sit on the porch railing
and fling himself against the window, and then fly back to the porch railing
and do it again. Over and over and over again.

Being awakened at six in the morning every morning was beginning to wear
on our tempers. We own an air rifle for popping at cans and in a fit of annoyance
one afternoon I went out, sat lying in wait for twenty minutes for the goddamned
robin and then shot a big hole into the porch railing. The robin was not deterred
and Eric told me that either my aim would have to get a lot better or I had
better not ever do that again.

As as a side note I should explain for those of you who know us that yes,
we do have cats, and that yes, surely they should have provided a possible
solution to this problem. Difficulty one with that is that our cats stay indoors
because there are much bigger cats outdoors. I did show the robin to my older
cat, Ariel, who meowed at it once and then RAN AND HID. Thus not with a bang
but with a whimper was the mighty black and white bed leopard vanquished.
The shame.

Elsa, my smaller cat, showed more initiative, actually running and approaching
the window where the robin was flailing. I thought sure she’d chase off the
damn thing. But no. Once she got close enough she decided the robin was Cat
TV and merely sat there looking at it for hours at a time.

Finally, drawing on his vast biologic background, Eric decided that the
reason the robin was flinging itself at the windows was not because it was
just the dumbest bird on the face of the planet but because this was robin
mating season, and that the stupid thing was trying to stake out its territory.
It kept seeing its own reflection in the windows and was thinking it was another
male robin in need of chasing away. A really stubborn rival male robin, apparently.
So our solution, therefore, was to take down the construction paper hawks
and to put newspaper up on the windows to cut down on the reflection.

At first this worked. The thudding stopped. I looked out once and could
see the robin perched on the porch railing, staring forlornly at the windows.
Apparently he was waiting for his rival to show up so they could rumble again.
For a day or so we had peace.

And then it started up again. Five in the morning this time. And at both
the favourite windows, ten minutes on each, as if every robin hormone was
working overtime and he was going to make up for spare time.

Surely robin mating season can’t go on that long, I thought. Surely he must
get tired, I thought. Surely eventually he’ll beat himself to pulp doing this,
I thought. But we had the terminator robin, on and on he came.

OK. Last straw. Put the newspapers on the OUTSIDE of the windows. If I saw
that robin, I chased that robin. I screeched and howled and pounded on the
windows. If the robin was going to keep me awake and make my life miserable,
I was going to make sure that it suffered in my misery. I assumed, cynically,
that even if we managed to chase it away from its two favourite windows it
would find more windows to thud against. We have a lot of windows, and a lot
of porch railing. A lot of launching sites for an overly competitive robin.
I had visions of having to plaster the entire house in newspaper, all to prevent
one single small bird from driving us up the wall.

But so far we have had three robin-free days. I have been able to sleep
in again, and Elsa has stopped sitting on the stairs waiting for Cat TV to
come on in the afternoon. I think finally we have found a solution to keep
the robin away from the windows.

The morning I was coming downstairs and I saw the robin. It had to be the
same robin. He was across the front yard, in the driveway, standing on the
pavement in the sun. And over and over again he was flinging himself against
the chrome bumper of Eric’s truck.

Thud. Thud. Thud.