Coming Back as a Bird

I choose to be a male robin
so I can wear orangey-red feathers
and sing soul-soaring songs in spring.

I promise to work hard
on my parenting skills,
and to be a faithful mate.

As robin, I belong a proud lineage.
Small winged beings
descended from dinosaurs,
we are so good at life
that humans call us common.
Oh put away your camera, they say,
it’s only a robin.

It’s a saving grace
to fly under the human radar.


— Harriet Ann Ellenberger
, 17 July 2015

Published by

Harriet Ann Ellenberger

writer, editor, translator; co-founded the journal "Sinister Wisdom"

20 thoughts on “Coming Back as a Bird”

  1. Warm, endearing, like holding a small, calm bird against my breastbone. Cochiti is proud of this poem, thinking she is part of what brings people and birds closer, even those under the human radar. She says Harriet is like the bird in the poem in her virtues.

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      1. I have observed the same parenting behavior with bears Harriet at my study site. One year Marie had a cub that wouldn’t stay quiet while she came in to feed. Finally after a few nights of this whining Marie just walked off into the forest without her cub…the cub howled for another ten minutes before climbing down her tree and taking off after her mother. The next time I saw the two Thumbelina was as quiet as a mouse!

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      2. I profoundly hope he doesn’t know everything — that would be demoralizing to me. He’s just curious about everything, and has a superlative memory.

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  2. Dear Harriet, I LOVE Robins, and I thank you for creating this really lovely poem for them. I love how Robins tilt their heads to listen(?) for worms (or are they just using their super-keen eyes to see minute movements beneath the soil?); and I love all of their many sounds, and their proud upright bearing, and their flat winged flashing flight, and their tolerance and adaptability etc etc and I am so glad someone feels about them as I do!

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    1. Mr. Bear says robins have different worm-hunting techniques, but the one that amazes me is this: they peck the ground, which sets up a vibration underground that the worms interpret as a mole moving in on them so they come to the surface, where the robin grabs and pulls them all the way out of the ground. (Many robins nest here because the backyard used to be a barnyard and the result is a festival of worms.) This year the crows started imitating robin worm-hunting techniques, and the young robins were being pushed out of the best worm territories. But then crows and robins seemed to arrive at a compromise — the crows took half the yard and the robins the other half.
      I am happy the poem attracted another lover of robins! Thanks for the response …

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        1. I do have one more robins & crows story: last year, there was one young robin who refused to learn how to hunt worms. The other little robins were all trying; they weren’t being very successful, but they kept at it — and every now and again a parent would share half a worm with them. The refuser stayed on a rock and cried and cried. Finally, the parents flew off with their other children, and the unhappy one cried for another full five minutes on his rock. No one came back for him, and finally he flew off in the direction his family had gone. The next day he was out in the yard with the others, working on his worm-hunting technique. This year it was not a robin, but a young crow, who refused to learn how to feed himself, and his truly unpleasant crow-crying went on for four or five days before he gave up resisting. There’s always somebody out there in the woods who doesn’t want to grow up, and I can’t say I blame them.

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          1. Really? This is a new thought for me. All I knew was that watching and learning from the free animals was doing me a lot of good.

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  3. I want to hear exactly what happens with porcupines since I have never witnessed porcupine mothering behavior. Porcupines around here keep to the forest. Only once this year did I meet a young one and s/he was meandering along on the side of a very busy road. I shuddered knowing that there are people enjoy running these animals over. I have met loggers who kill them because they damage trees.

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    1. This year a mother porcupine with two little ones came to the three old apple trees, many nights. I only saw the mother walk away from the little one who was a wailer one time, and she didn’t go far, just back into the treelike. Porcupines climb up in the apple trees every year, and when you go out in the morning, there are small green branches on the ground, perfectly cut. The apple trees don’t seem to mind this light pruning; they’re thriving, even though they’re at least seventy or eighty years old. I’ve about decided the porcupines are helping the trees.

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      1. Once I was walking down a grassy road in Lubec Maine, and I happened upon a Porcupine, who was squatted at the edge of the road facing the flowery fringe. The quilly individual would reach up with a paw and pull down a Daisy to dab at the center with tongue. I watched this individual do this repeatedly with about seven or eight Daisies before I slunk away so as not to disturb. There was something so delicate about the way this Porcupine would gently bring the flowerhead down to mouth with a clasping front paw which had “opposable thumb” written upon it.

        Also, walking in a fairly dense forest of Spruce and Tamarack and Poplar also in Lubec, I have found many Spruce tops lying on the forest floor. I discovered that the Porcupines would climb up near the top and chisel away until the top six feet or so of the tree would fall to the forest floor, where they could eat the tender buds at their leisure.

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    1. When the robin families leave here in the fall, they fly south … but to where? It’s the same families, generation after generation, who come back to nest here — they know the place, you can tell. But do any robins spend the winter in southern Texas? I’d love to think of these robins moving back and forth between where you are and where I am.

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      1. It is a great thing to imagine that connection. I felt a cool charge of soothing energy just reading your words. I live in far West Texas, in the high desert. I don’t think too many robins come here.we do have hummingbirds and mockingbirds, black birds, wrens, sparrows, and here in Central El Paso, pigeons.

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