I was just settling in to weed the shade garden under the wild black cherry tree, when I noticed an errant overhanging lilac branch and raised my clippers into it. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a robin – a robin! – dive-bombed me, bopping me on the head and pooping on my cheek as it flew away. I had an extraordinarily close-up view of a wing and a red breast for probably half a second, and was so startled I dropped the clippers.

shade garden

the shade garden

And then I started laughing. Here I was with my large size (compared to a bird) and my sharp pointed tools, but the robin easily won. When you’re been pooped on by a bird you absolutely have to stop what you’re doing and go wash it off. It might not be effective against other predators, but it was an adaptation well tailored to human-bearing suburbs.

Once I was cleaned up, I went back out to see where the nest was; because the only thing that could motivate a small bird to attack something like me, was danger to its offspring. The nest was about ten feet from where I raised my clippers. I wanted to be sure so I could stay clear of it, and not upset such a devoted parent again.

I’ve watched robins dive-bomb the eagle when he sat too near a nest, and I thought they were very brave. Knowing my own intentions, I don’t think of myself as a potential threat – but how would the robins know my intentions? How would any creature? They guess, and they err on the side of safety. It’s so easy to be wrong.

Trouble in Paradise

nibbled tomatoThough the garden is bunny-proofed and deer-proofed, there is no proofing against squirrels. They leap around in the treetops as a feint, then parachute into the garden. Though they mostly confine themselves to planting and digging up acorns and walnuts, this is the second year in a row that I’ve had them marauding among my tomatoes.

guarding the gardenSo I was pleased to go out the other morning and find Juvie Eagle sitting on one of the fenceposts, peering into the garden. I didn’t see him make any squirrel strikes, but I didn’t see any squirrels, either. Not anywhere in the whole yard. There were only the usual jays and robins making a racket and dive-bombing Juvie, who shrugged them off. After a while he spread his glorious wings and flew up onto the roof of the house, out of sight from where I stood.

It seems to me the birds have the best case to make for their behavior. The squirrel doesn’t need to be snacking on tomatoes when he should be stashing nuts for the winter, and I won’t exactly starve if I have only a small crop of tomatoes to eat. But the jays and robins are protecting their offspring. The eagle, though they’re naturally suspicious of him, is not attacking them or their nests. In fact, I don’t know what he’s doing. What goes on in the mind of an eagle when it sits on a fencepost for half an hour, turning its head up and back, flicking its wings a little, on a day in summer when the temperature and humidity are human-perfect? I tend to fill the mouths of all these critters with my thoughts, but they sing, and whistle, and screech, their own tunes.

It reminds me of this poem by my friend Alicia Ostriker. I wonder if my eagle would agree with her dog.