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August 1933Volume 8, Number 5

A BROKEN-WINGED ROBIN Donald Edward McHenry, Junior Park Naturalist.

SOME called her Wingy, others just the broken-winged robin. Either term was appropriate for each told just why she was different from all other robins.

No one had noticed her until one day she attracted the attention of the wife of a ranger by her peculiar antics about the bird bath. When the ranger saw the bird that evening, he realised that it had at some time broken its wing. The wing had mended imperfectly so the robin could do little more than elevate it to a stationary, horizontal position. Naturally this made normal flying impossible.

An impaired wing did not dull the call of spring and motherhood. In a few days the robin was seen gathering mud from the region of the bird bath in obvious preparation for a nest. Not being able to fly was of course a great handicap, but she overcame this by hopping uphill to a low juniper tree about a hundred feet to the rear of the ranger cabin. Here with the utmost patience she set about building her nest in one of the upper branches, reaching it by jumping up from one branch to the next. Of course such ceaseless industry soon attracted considerable attention and admiration from people living in the vicinity, and led to numerous invasions of her privacy.

Need we wonder that the robin was considerably disturbed by all this attention, and decided to seek greater seclusion in the upper branches of a taller tree growing down hill at the corner of the ranger cabin? Yet, with her injured wing, how was she to reach this coveted place? Desire for motherhood urged her to a solution. With a mouth full of mud, or carrying the strings which by this time the ranger's wife was putting out for her, she would hop up the hill to a low branched juniper. Climbing this by her unique method of jumping from one branch to the next, she reached the top. From this height she would spread her wings and glide down to a branch on the next tree, thence climb to the top of this as she had climbed the first one. Again she would set sail, and so by repeating this method several times she finally reached the branch on which she began her second nest.

Day after day she labored on until the new nest was all but completed. Then one afternoon the ranger parked his car beneath the tree in which the new home was being established, little suspecting that this would disturb this new found friend. But the robin did not find this new arrangement to her liking and decided upon another location. This time she chose a tree higher even than those used before, and about a hundred feet west of the ranger cabin. All the labor of climbing the juniper up on the hill and of gliding and climbing to her new perch had to be reenacted.

In about two weeks time the new nest was completed. During the following weeks little or no attention was paid to the robin. One morning, however, the ranger heard new sounds coming from the nest. Suspicion became fact when he noticed that the mother bird was again making trips up the hill and thence to her nest, but this time with food for the new members of the family. At times she would vary her route by hopping up the trunk of a pinyon pine which had been blown over at a sharp angle. Once in its top, she could easily glide to the nest.

Later one of the young robins fell to the ground. The invalid mother was greatly perturbed by this misfortune, for how was she to return her baby to safety? She did not waste much time deciding on a course of action, for she was soon herding the reluctant young bird around the ranger cabin and up the hill. Leaving him here for a moment, she gathered some food for the little fellow, then they continued on their way. Eventually the two birds reached a low thick shrub near the base of the tree in which the nest was located. Beneath this the wayward young robin found a new home. This, of course, doubled the work for the mother in feeding her brood, but she was undaunted.

In time the young robins grew up. One morning the ranger's wife saw the family at what must have been their farewell feast. The mother with her children, stood on the edge of the bird bath. Even then she was feeding her overgrown offspring. This was the last time the family was seen together.

Summer passed into autumn and autumn into winter. During this time the broken-winged robin became more and more a pet of the park people. Indeed she became so friendly that when food was thrown out to her she acted more like a domestic chicken than a robin.

With the coming of winter, it became quite obvious that the lame robin would not be able to join the migration to the warmer south lands, and her many friends became concerned for her welfare. Some considered taking her to the local doctor to have her wing broken and reset in the proper position, but he felt that this would be of no avail. The chief ranger thought of catching her and taking her down to Indian Gardens since this is a much lower altitude and so would be warmer than on the rim. Here would be protection from snow. The robin, however, spent the winter among the ranger cabins, apparently content with her lot.

The broken-winged robin welcomed spring among her friends at Grand Canyon with the distinction of being one of the few of her species to have wintered in the region. But all was not well for her injured wing now dragged dejectedly along the ground, a second injury having made it more useless than before. No longer could she even simulate those feeble leaps into the air which had served to baffle her enemies and probably saved her life. Days passed and gradually the people of Grand Canyon began to miss the cheerful calls of this friendly bird. No amount of searching revealed a hiding place. Finally it became evident that the robin was gone. probably never to return, for how could she have escaped lurking enemies with a wing rendered so useless?

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