By Kristin van Ogtrop
Updated January 26, 2015
Christopher Silas Neal

Every spring for the last three years, a robin has laid a nest in a rhododendron right next to our front porch. It is also right next to the driveway, so every time we get in and out of the car, the robin leaves her nest in a little panic and flies to a nearby dogwood. But she always comes back. The nest is about six feet off the ground and, if you ask me, built in a fairly stupid and overly public location, but what do I know? I am not a robin.

I always get excited when the bird appears, as if overnight (really, we never see her build the nest—suddenly it’s just there), and my kids get excited too (or they feign excitement for my benefit). Each year, we monitor the progress of the babies until they leave the nest. And, of course, there is always the possibility of finding some eggs that have not been completely demolished, because robin’s egg blue is just about the best color in the whole world.

This spring everything seemed to be going along just fine. The mother had two babies and we marveled, yet again, at how quickly they grew. And then last week things took a dramatic turn for the worse.

First we stopped seeing one of the babies. That was maybe on Tuesday. We hoped that perhaps that one had flown away, although it seemed unlikely, given that the remaining baby didn’t seem all that big yet. Then on Friday, when my husband was leaving for work, the remaining baby (what do you call a baby robin? A chick?) was stretching its neck high above the nest, chirping loudly. I figured the mother had gone to find some food and didn’t give it another thought.

When I checked later in the afternoon, I did not see the baby bird, and there were flies around the nest. And so I climbed up into the rhododendron, and the bird was dead. Beneath its body was the other bird, less developed, who had vanished from sight earlier in the week.

This really, really bothered me. First of all, the bird was alive at 8:30 a.m. and dead by 5:30, and perhaps I could have done something (what, I don’t know, but surely some website could have told me) to keep it alive. After all, I was home on a summer Friday, just hanging around the house, while apparently the bird was slowly dying five feet from my porch. I do not like to think about that. Second, is two dead birds in a nest in front of your house a bad omen of some sort? This is something I could probably look up online too, but will not. Finally, it is not a lot of fun to have to tell my children that the birds we have been excitedly watching are now, inexplicably, dead. And to try not to be upset, which you are, even if you can’t really figure out why.

To those of you who know more about robins than I do: would the mother just abandon the nest? And why can’t I?