too many words by laura lemay

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 exciting.

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.