I took a break from facebook and twitter the other day and looked around. A baby robin was flapping and sliding down the hood of my car, trying its best to climb and flap up to a stable position. I stopped, not wanting to frighten it, and it took a look at me, stopped flapping, and slid down to the ground. At that point Biddy (yes, I named it) took a look at me and chirped. I shrugged my shoulders because I don’t speak robin. I speak cockatiel.
So Biddy cheeps at me loudly, then waddles off towards a big tree. I figure that’s home, but Biddy jumps up on a log and starts cheeping up at the tree. I sit on the steps to watch, waiting for Mom or Dad to show up. Nothing.
Biddy is really cute. Huge legs and feet compared to the body. Light downy red breast and downy head, with spotted baby feathers here and there. And a good set of lungs!
Biddy chirps and cheeps some more, then takes a long look at me and my wife. Hopping off the log, Biddy starts zigzagging towards us, cheeping at every turn. Now we’re worried. If Biddy doesn’t find home, we know there’s a gang of black cats that will make sure there’s no tomorrow. What do we do?
Biddy hops up on a planter fairly close and starts chirping loudly directly at us. “Hey! Help me! Feed me! Where’s my mom and dad?” We know from past experience that Biddy has to do this alone – we can’t help. At the very least, we can watch and protect the perimeter, but this is nature, and it’s all on you, Biddy.
Then came the cavalry. A parent robin shows up, mom or dad, couldn’t tell, but let’s call it Robin. Robin has a worm in its beak, and stands close to Biddy. Biddy perks up and jumps to the ground, and trying to peck the worm. Robin jumps back, telling Biddy to follow. And Biddy gets the message.
A few more jumps and Robin flies to the fence. Biddy hops all the way over and then flies next to Robin! Robin flies around the corner of the house, and Biddy follows. They’re gone. We knew all would be well, at least for today.
And what does this tell us about love? It tells us that the behavior of caring, of looking out for your baby, and the desire to have them home where they are safe is a very old desire, shared by many animals. A biologist can argue that what we saw wasn’t really love, it was a bird following its genetic code. Does that really matter? As a student of behavior, I only care about results, what you do. And if you worry about your kids, work to take care of them, and bring them home when they stray, will you object if I call it love? I hope not.
Who knows, maybe we are all just obeying our genes.
Or maybe it’s love.
That’s what a little bird told me.