Search This Blog

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Bluest Eggs You’ll Ever See are in the Valley…

You know the tune…you certainly do. Feel free to hum along as you read this post. fuschia basket nest

I have yet to find one this summer, but in the two summers previous I’ve  found four or five in the months of May and June. What you find, usually, is a discarded eggshell, a shard of blue, the result of the bird’s nest tidying. How Chicken Little imagined an acorn bouncing off his head meant the sky was falling is beyond me; there’s nothing sky-like in the slightest about an acorn, but if you’ll pardon my quote from an earlier post, a chicken is hardly a candidate for Mensa. Now if a robin’s egg had ricocheted off CL’s feathered noggin, his squawking in the chicken yard may have had more credibility.

I read or heard somewhere what robins love most, (next to my blueberries, of course), is nest building. Mr. Redbreast is such a prodigious nest builder, he often forgets one construction site and quickly chooses another. a robin in the woodpileThere may be two or three unfinished starts before a suitable platform is ready for the Missus to deposit her eggs.

Robins must have a difficult time keeping track of their eggs, also (or more’s the case, standing guard over them). I’ll be mowing the lawn and suddenly my eye will catch a glimpse of blue in the grass and when I investigate, I’ll discover some vestige of a wee folks’ egg hunt. Or I’ll be out in the garden and a glint of turquoise catches my eye: a robin’s egg like a solitary blue pebble lying in the dirt. An abandoned robin’s egg on the ground is a mystery. One might think it may have fallen from a nest, accidentally dislodged by a startled parent, but the eggs are always out in the open, the nearest tree oftentimes several feet away. Perhaps the little jewel was stolen by a crow, blue jay or starling with a loose grip. But one bird’s egg is another one’s meal ticket—that’s how I thought it worked--a ready laid omelet for Mr. Crow, frumpy starling, or larcenous  jay.Robin egg blue Cowbirds, parasitic brood birds in the business of making other parents their surrogates, are the only nest rustlers in our state, and I have a checkmark by “Cowbird, brown-headed” on my backyard bird list. As cowbirds are too lazy to raise their own young, I doubt one would make the effort to extract an egg from its nest and then just drop it somewhere, even if it could get a purchase on the egg. Perhaps Missus Redbreast laid one egg too many and the castoff is the result of avian family planning. Naturalists, I’m sure, have a logical explanation for this proliferation of robins’ eggs, but I’ve yet to discover it.

As The Ripple often digresses, I thought I’d include a bit of robin trivia before I continue with the castaway egg topic. The American robin was the poster bird for Rachel Carson’s seminal book Silent Spring, the common bird whose springtime “old, sweet song”was hypothetically silenced by toxic pesticides, namely DDT. Birders no doubt refer to clan robin by its scientific name “Turdus migratorious, but before your mind rushes to your experiences with soiled patio furniture (shade has its drawbacks, doesn’t it?), let me inform you that according to my pocket Collins Latin to English dictionary, “turdus” is Latin for “thrush,”—not what, because of the bird’s liberal excretions alimentary, you may have thought. The last subject brings to mind a nursery rhyme popular in the eighteenth century. The ditty appeared in Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book (1744) along with forty-four others, many of which appear in the  repertoire of our Modern Mother Goose. The poem includes a vulgarism in its earlier versions and The Ripple reprints it here, with apologies to the reader, in hopes it will give the rascal robins some well-deserved bad press, particularly since the editor has been chasing a thieving  flock of them out of his black raspberry patch most of the day:

                             Little Robin Redbreast

                             Sat on a pole.

                             Nidde, Noddle, Went his head.

                            And  Poop went his hole.

The Age of Enlightenment, however, saw the rhyme sanitized, most likely to spare the sensitivities of the “enlightened”adults rather than keep the crass and vulgar from the ears of nursery children. The “a” rhyme was changed to “rail” (“…sat on a rail”) and the fourth line to “And wag went his tail.” The editor, knowing the proclivities of young children—having been one himself—ventures to say the uncensored version must have resulted in squeals of laughter from the young, especially given the opportunity to recite the verse aloud.

Two less scientific observations just to sustain the digression. Did you know a mole is a robin magnet? Just like the canary in the coalmine, robins foraging among mole mounds indicate a mole is working its evil underfoot, doing some excavating activity of its own, sending the worms fleeing to the surface where the robins snap them up. One more item of robin lore: an observant researcher from The Ripple noted a mother robin tidying up her nest for her hatchlings by removing their poop (now that the precedent’s been set) by the beakful and hauling it  from the nest. Though a robin has many faults, maternal neglect isn’t among them.

“Robin’s egg blue,” “cerulean blue,” turquoise…none of these colors quite match a robin egg’s hue; the secret pigment lies deep within the robin’s DNA and I doubt there’s a paint chip anywhere, as precise as computers are, that will match it. a special tint of blueI consider these misplaced eggs fair game; they are far too unique and colorful to disregard. Two years ago I wrote a post about the detritus Mother Nature leaves lying about (“Picking up after Mother Nature,” 5/4/2011) and consider these blue discards fair game. I would be more than glad to return the eggs to their nests but which nest?  Whose? And where? No wastrel myself, I collected the castoffs, took them into the kitchen, and performed the same technical procedure one would use to preserve any eggshell: perforate both ends of the egg with a needle or sharp, fine pointed tool. In the case of the robins’ eggs I used a dissecting probe and chipped a small hole in either end of the egg--but not before I sanitized my blue prize with a little bleach and soap (after all, I knew where the egg has been). Then I bring the egg to my mouth, hold it over the sink drain,and blow gently until the contents, yolk and white, ooze out. Of all the eggs I’ve retrieved, only one oozed blood—a sign that embryo development had begun. Of the ten eggs I’ve collected so far, that egg was the only one I’ve had to discard. After I rinse the egg’s innards down the drain, I trickle water into the egg, rinse it free of its contents and set the empty egg aside to dry. I store the eggs in a dark room because UV light fades the egg; over time, exposure to sunlight will bleach the robin egg’s delicate blue to white. What I’ll do with these empty blue shells, I have no idea. But when the idea does come, I’ll be ready.nest of hollow eggs

Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book included another robin-related nursery rhyme: Who Killed Cock Robin?”  By the way, if you happen to know the contact information for that sparrow, I would appreciate your passing it along to me; I have a little business I’d like him to tend to…out by the raspberry patch…with his bow and arrow.

Print this post

No comments:

Post a Comment