Penkava: Helping the robins to be empty nesters

Michael Penkava
Michael Penkava

My wife and I are bird watchers. Actually, she is the bird watcher and I am her tenderfoot assistant apprentice.

She is the one who actually knows stuff about birds. Armed with her well-worn copy of “A Field Guide to the Birds East of the Rockies,” she skillfully spots and identifies birds. I, on the other hand, am in the process of learning…

“Honey, what’s that one with the orange on front?”

“Michael, that’s a robin.”

“Oh yeah … what about that red one?”

“That would be a cardinal.”

Thus, my ornithological education continues.

I am also learning the calls of various species …

“Honey, I know that one … it’s a blue jay.”

“No Michael, that’s a woodpecker pecking a tree.”

“OK … honey what’s that one?”

“Michael, that would be the neighbor’s lawnmower.”

“You’re right … I think it’s a Craftsman 140cc, model 2345C.”

I may not know bird calls, but I know my gas-powered lawn machines.

My wife also keeps a notebook of all the birds she sees. She places the name of the bird and the date she saw it. She’s logged in such varieties as the red-bellied woodpecker (the one that sounds like a blue jay), cedar waxwing, indigo bunting, common yellow throat warbler, and, my favorite, the brown creeper, which sounds more like a chipmunk to me.

All of which brings us to what I wanted to write about in the first place.

A pair of robins (the ones with the orange front) decided to make a nest under the eaves of our house. It’s in the shade, but, unfortunately, right next to the asphalt driveway that gives off heat like a plate of flaming Saganaki cheese.

We’ve been keeping an eye on the nest, and enjoyed hearing the peeping of their little babies as they persistently harassed their parents for food, much like human teenagers.

Recently, during a 90-degree hot spell, we began to worry about those little peepers. We could see their oversized heads sticking out of the nest, their yellow-rimmed mouths seeming to pant in the heat. My wife said that they would surely die if we didn’t do something to save them.

I suggested moving the nest to a cooler location, but my Senior Bird’s Nest Expert told me that nest-site fidelity is strong during the mating season, and in all likelihood the parents would abandon the nest.

I told her that I knew that and she smiled and asked me to go get the 8-foot step ladder. I set it up and she climbed up with a water sprayer in her hand. She gave the babies a nice spritzing to cool them off. She also gave me a spritz for being such a great tenderfoot assistant nesting apprentice.

Every few hours the four little guys got their cool shower. They knew when she was there because they even opened their mouths so she could give them a drink.

This got them through those hot days. Eventually the time came for them to leave their nest. Now we see them flitting around in our backyard. I call them the “Spritzer Kids.” My wife calls them immature migratory songbirds of the thrush genus.

Whoever they are, may they live happily ever after.

• Michael Penkava taught a bunch of kids and wrote a bunch of stuff. He once excitedly told his wife that there was a giant sparrow in the yard. It was a red-tailed hawk. He can be reached at

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