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An essay by Elizabeth Brightwen

Robins I Have Known

Title:     Robins I Have Known
Author: Elizabeth Brightwen [More Titles by Brightwen]

If I once begin to speak about these winning, confiding little birds, I shall hardly know when to stop. There can scarcely be a more delightful pet than a wild robin which has learnt to love you, and will come indoors and be your quiet companion for hours together. One can feel happy in the thought that he has his liberty and his natural food out of doors, and that he gives you his companionship freely because he likes to be with you, and shows that he does, by singing his sweet songs perched on the looking-glass or some vase of flowers.

Autumn is the best time to begin taming such a little friend. When one of those brown-coated young birds in his first year's plumage (before the red feathers show) takes to haunting the window-ledge, or looks up inquiringly from the gravel path outside, then is the time to throw out a mealworm, four or five times a day, when the bird appears. He will soon associate you with his pleasant diet, and come nearer, and grow daily less fearful, until, by putting mealworms on a mat just inside the room, he will come in and take them, and at last learn to be quite content to remain. The first few times the window should be left open to let him retreat, for unless he feels he can come and go at will he will probably make a dash at a closed window, not seeing the glass, and be fatally injured, or else too frightened to return.

Like all other taming, it must be carried on with patience.

One summer, many years ago, we occupied an old-fashioned house in the country, where, in perfect quietude, one could make acquaintance with birds and study their habits and manners without interruption. From the veranda of a large, low-ceilinged sitting-room one looked out upon a garden of the olden type, full of moss-grown apple-trees, golden daffodils, lupines and sweet herbs, that pleasant mixture of the kitchen and flower garden which always seems so enjoyable. It was an ideal home for birds, no cat was ever visible, and from the numbers of the feathered folk one could believe that countless generations had been reared in these apple-trees and lived out their little lives in perfect happiness. I soon found a friend amongst the robins; one in particular began to pay me frequent visits as I sat at work indoors. At first he ventured in rather timidly, took a furtive glance and then flew away, but finding that crumbs were scattered for him, and while he picked them up a kindly voice encouraged his advances, he soon became at ease, made his way into the room and seemed to examine by turns, with birdish curiosity, all the pieces of furniture and the various ornaments on the mantelpiece and tables. Much to my pleasure he began to sing to me, and very pretty he looked, sitting amongst the flowers in a tall vase, warbling his charming little ditty, keeping his large black eyes fixed upon me as if to see if I seemed impressed by his vocal efforts.

Once he stopped in the middle of his song, looked keenly at a corner of the ceiling, and after a swift flight there, he returned with a spider in his beak; one can well believe what good helpers the insect-eating birds must be to the gardener, by destroying countless hosts of minute caterpillars and grubs that would otherwise prey upon the garden produce. Bobbie continued his visits to me throughout the summer, remaining happy and content for hours at a time, pluming himself, singing, and at times investigating the contents of a little cupboard, where he sometimes discovered a cake which was much to his taste, on which he feasted without any leave asked, though truly it would have been readily given to such a pleasant little visitor. He soon showed such entire confidence in me that he would perch on the book I was reading, and alight on my lap for crumbs even when many people were in the room.

When we had to leave this country home I wished that dear Bobbie could have been packed up to go elsewhere with our other possessions, but since this could not be, let us hope he still inhabits the old garden and cheers other home-dwellers with his confiding manners and morning and evening songs of praise.

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Elizabeth Brightwen's essay: Robins I Have Known