I never thought I’d be so excited about a birdhouse! There it stands, a rather elegant, miniature roofed dining pavilion elevated on a post above the middle of my small townhouse garden. I’ve had bird feeders before, hung from trees and on top of squirrel-proof stands, but when there are squirrels around, nothing with bird food in it is squirrel-proof. Now that I live in a townhouse, I have a garden with no trees–and no squirrels! We didn’t even have birds. All very sad and boring for Leo the cat. And yes, I do miss having a garden with lots of trees and creatures of all kinds running and flying around in it. So, when just before Christmas, a tiny, cheeky robin started making daily visits, drinking from our waterfall feature and digging worms out of our small patch of grass, he completely captured my heart. His arrival couldn’t have been more timely.
In England, the robin is a Christmas bird. It’s not because he shows up in winter instead of spring; with his reddish-orange breast, he’s just more visible in winter, and food is harder to pull out of a frozen ground. He’s become the Christmas bird because postmen used to wear red vests and were referred to as “robin redbreasts”. At Christmas time, as they delivered bagloads of Christmas cards, they inevitably ended up being depicted on Christmas cards themselves as jolly little birds delivering Christmas cheer. This year, robins were on the Christmas stamps and also featured in the Waitrose grocery store’s advertising theme, “Home for Christmas.” The story of a fearless, determined little robin braving sea and storm around the world to wing its way back home to England and mince pies has to be the most epic, emotional Christmas ad ever made for a grocery store.
Do robins really fly around the world? Well, first of all, British robins are nothing like North American robins. They are small, round and fat whereas American robins are bigger and longer (and not as cute). Did you know that the robin Julie Andrews sings to in Mary Poppins is the North American bird, never seen on this side of the Atlantic? Oh, Walt Disney!
So, we bought our cheeky little Bobbin a birdhouse for Christmas. We bought birdseed and installed this majestic piece of real estate in the perfect spot for breakfast viewing. The first time he tentatively hopped inside his new dining room, we were ecstatic. He likes it!
Then, he disappeared. Days went by and there was no sign of him. I began to worry the cat had discovered him. Meanwhile, my own two fledglings in America were preparing to wing their way home across the sea. I am always anxious when they fly, but even more so when they’re together, precious cargo up there somewhere in the vast, open reach of sky.
So much of life is about waiting! We wait for a loved one to come home, for a child to be born, for a bird to show up. The British are keen bird watchers. Perhaps it’s because they have an aptitude for waiting. Americans are an impatient lot. I have had to learn to wait for many things, and not always with grace and kindness. I grew up in an era of convenience–frozen vegetables and cake mixes, polaroid cameras, and credit cards. I knew nothing about birds or plants or watching things grow. I didn’t know caterpillars don’t turn into butterflies overnight, or that something broken takes time to mend, or that dreams don’t happen just because you wish upon a star. I have had to learn patience, and along the way, perseverance.
So, I wait and watch. Then, something marvellous happens. The morning after my fledglings arrived safely home, a bird started singing merrily outside in my little garden as if heralding their return. Could it be…yes! Our robin was also back! I am convinced it was the same one. Wherever he went, he seemed so pleased to be home.
Christmas is over and my chicks have now flown off again. It never gets any easier, this coming home and going away. But Bobbin has decided to stay. Only now he’s duking it out with a perky little gray wagtail (I had to look him up) and a big annoying blackbird. They chase each other around the garden like naughty schoolchildren not liking to share. My oh my, have I become a bird watcher in my dotage? January is such a cold and heavy-spirited month, this one in particular. I am saddened by loss and the ache of winter, waiting and longing for spring. I am learning patience, and the resiliency of birds.