Backyard Wildlife: There’s a lot going on out there.

One of the backyard cottontail rabbits that enjoy our garden

The sound of robins chirping is a cheerful sign of spring. When we hear the sound of robins in March we know that spring is here. Yes, the season is often elusive and we wonder whether those robins wish they’d stayed south a few weeks longer.

Yesterday, the air was filled with the sounds of robins, but these were shrieks of panic and anguish, not cheerful chirps of spring. Ascribing human emotions to birds is hazardous, but there was no mistaking these sounds. These robins were angry.

The robin shrieks were interspersed with ‘caws’ from a crow, evidently the focus of the robins’ anger.

All the noise and activity was taking place in a couple aspen trees at the back corner of our yard. Looking more closely, robins were darting in and out of the branches, and a couple times the crow flew off, escorted by dive-bombing robins intent on getting rid of this unwelcome intruder.

My black Lab, Flicka, and I walked down the alley to get a closer look at the action. Most of the drama had ended and the crow was nowhere in sight. At least I thought the drama was over until Flicka walked under the branches and out popped a half-grown baby robin, and then another. They were about the size of sparrows, not yet showing any orange on their chests, still brown and with thrush markings.

With these babies out in the open the adult robins renewed their angry calls and darting at Flicka, warning her to leave them alone. I called Flicka away from the baby robins and we left the scene, hoping these juveniles survived their little adventure.

The baby robins explain the little backyard drama. The crow had spotted the robin nest and elected to do a little raiding in search of a nice, juicy baby robin or two.

It was one of those backyard dramas that get played out on a daily basis, though usually not witnessed by humans. On a different scale it was similar to that told by friends of an acquaintance living just out of town near Seeley Lake. She had seen a white-tailed doe and fawn in her backyard, probably not an unusual sight in that community that is virtually overrun with deer.

A couple days later, however, she looked out and saw, to her horror, the mother deer running frantically back and forth, frantic but helpless as a grizzly bear dined on the fawn.

In both these cases, there is a natural inclination to interfere and come to the rescue of the baby robins or the whitetail fawn. Of course, yelling or throwing something at a crow is one thing. If you’re tempted to run off a hungry grizzly bear, you’d better think twice, lest you become the bear’s next meal.

When we become witnesses to these backyard dramas it’s usually best to let nature run its course. We may be inclined to think that robins and deer are good, but crows and grizzly bears are bad. Still, chances are the crows have young to feed and baby birds of one kind or another are an opportune source of food for a baby crow. Similarly, a grizzly bear at this time of year needs a lot of food to recover from winter hibernation, especially if it is nursing a pair of cubs.

There are many dramas taking place in back yards all the time. Almost on a daily basis, Flicka will freeze on point and if I look in the direction she’s facing there is usually a cottontail rabbit upwind sitting calmly in a patch of clover pretending it’s invisible. Then Flicka will begin to stalk the rabbit, going ever so slowly and cautiously, until she can’t stand it any longer and bursts into a run.

It’s almost a joke. The bunny scampers a few feet, pops through a fence or hedge and is safe, while my poor dog wonders where it went.

It reminds me of a quote attributed to Karl Marx: History repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce.