The Mothering Instinct

The keys click echoing through the empty kitchen. Sun streams through the windows and the only other sounds is the clink of my white china mug as I place it back on the countertop. Perched on a stool hunched over on what is now partly an office and partly a homework station for the kids, I look at the clock on the microwave.

A half hour to go until Jacob will wake up and we plunge into overdrive picking up the other kids from the bus, server, maid, tutor and then back to server.

I face the bright screen, not wanting to lose my place in the document. I’m on a mission to edit whatever I can as the minutes tick by.

Screeching from outside the window, a large thump diverts my attention and I see a flurry of whitish gray feathers fly beneath our corkscrew willow tree. A large bird veers upwards swiftly flying out of eyesight faster than I can get off the stool and go to the window.

What the hell?

All is silent. Too silent for a usually active backyard full of songbirds chirping and squirrels digging holes in my garden as the dig up whatever treasure they believe is still there from last winter. Robins, mourning doves, chickadees, sparrows, grackles, cardinals and even yellow finches have ascended into our little neighbourhood bringing life and song as they flutter from bird feeders to rooftops perching on the branches of  the still bare trees. It is only as the last rays of sun fade from the sky does the last final chirp settle into silence. But this afternoon, the silence is a warning. As I step outside watching fine tiny feathers float away on the breeze, it is a watchful silence. I know the birds are around, just very still, waiting and watching.

The babies!

I check on the robin’s nest and it seems intact. The fight happened right beside it. Right away I know what the large bird was. The Cooper’s Hawk had returned.

Last year I noticed a rather large hawk-like bird roosting on our fence. Being accustomed to the largest bird of the area being the robin, (Well, a couple of ducks like to use my neighbours pool as a stopover when in town and they have been known to sit on the fence and land in our backyard. And that geese couple walks around the sidewalks leaving a green gooey trail every so often but they are only visitors.) I looked twice. Knowing small hawks do live in our area, I was surprised to see one so still and close to our residence. It took flight before I had a chance to get my camera out and every once in a while it would swoop down into another  neighbour’s yard that backs onto our fence where they keep two large feeders for the songbirds but I never saw it successfully take a bird away.

It has become brazen this year, diving into my window and taking off with what I worried was one of the robins. Their babies had just hatched and without two sets of parents their chances of survival were slim unless another dad adopted them quickly. Breathlessly I watched the nest. Peeking out the curtain waiting, but no robins came or went. Mother robin had been very diligent sitting atop of those eggs for the last ten days, through cold rain and winds she had barely moved so I did not believe she would willingly abandon what seemed to be a successful nest.

The robin’s nest is located right outside our corner kitchen window in between two flood flights. Our first year here, the base nest was built and our growing family watched in delight as the robins laid two successful broods. The babies hid in our bushes for weeks and we dutifully kept the dog out-of-the-way and kept the curtain closed to make them feel safe and secure. Three and a half years later, whether it is the same mother coming back (I suspect it may be but know I could never tell for sure) or one of her brood we always have another pair of robins adopt the old nest, clean it up, make it even sturdier and hatch their eggs. So our family feels very protective of these birds that have adopted our little backyard. As a parent I think how wonderful it is my children can see the tiny beaks poking out of the nest and get to observe mother robin feeding the babies.

Painting by Nancy Jane Home Goods (via

Painting by Nancy Jane Home Goods (via

Right before leaving to pick up Audrey from the bus, the mother returned sitting protectively on the nest and I exhaled, relieved she was safe.  But what of her mate? Had he been the casualty of the hungry predator?

Later that day, he too returned bringing worms to his growing family. Looking over the backyards, I noticed a single mourning dove sitting atop the fence in the twilight and remembered the many gray feathers. The mated pair were always together the past couple of weeks, never leaving each other’s side. Now one sat alone. Seeing the robins safe, I am pretty sure the second dove was the bird the hawk took off with.

A couple of days later, Jacob was finishing his lunch watching the birds flit around as usual. Bread crumbs falling to the floor as he swivelled in his seat and Jake laying content, replacing spots of drool with the crumbs it was a usual lunch at our house.

Suddenly he gasped, “Mom! What is that? The hawk!”

The confident predator, having found a new take-out spot, had returned. Sitting on the fence watching, waiting. His head seemed fixed in the direction of the nest. We had all squealed earlier that morning seeing the first baby robin beaks opening and closing just above the rim of the nest. Mother and father robin had spent two full days flying back and forth with food.



Flinging open the patio door I called to Jake the dog. “Come on boy!”

It wasn’t until we were almost at the fence the hawk broke its concentration and flew away up into the sky, graceful and regal.

Part of me wished I had a camera, it was a beautiful bird with spotted chest and wide wing span.  But I chased it off.  It could hunt in someone else’s backyard. Nothing was touching our robins.

I peeked around the corner at the nest and mother robin hopped into sight peeking out from behind the growing wispy branches of the willow tree. Quietly I backed away taking the dog with me and we watched as she flew back onto the nest unmoving for a few hours.

“Good job Jacob!”

I hugged my little guy who had run to the window peeking behind the curtain at the nest.

“Mother robin is back?” He asked.

“Yes.” I reassured him the babies were safe.

Tonight. A few more days have passed since our last meeting with the hawk.

Dinner is on the table when Elizabeth points out the window.

“Mom? What is that?”

The hawk is back. Persistent bugger.

This time it is even more daring.  Perched atop of our swing set, we all have a clear view of the majestic bird. The light evening breeze ruffles the downy feathers. The backyard is again encased in silence. Long tail feathers hang just below the top of the thin wooden beam.  Unmoving, it only watches. I look at the nest. Unprotected.

“That is the Cooper’s Hawk?” Elizabeth asks her hazel eyes widening. “That’s the biggest bird in our backyard. Mom, scare it off. The babies!”

So I grab Jake the dog yet again and we scramble out the door.

Jacob runs to get his muddy rain boots. “Wait! I want to help!” I tell him to stay inside.

The girls run to the window to watch the nest.

The bird glides off into a neighbouring yard just as I close the screen door behind me. So we backtrack to the house to reassure everyone all is okay. I look back and see the damn bird swing back and roost up in the neighbour’s maple tree that blossomed a couple of days ago. It probably thinks I can’t see it but the buds are not full grown yet and it’s dark shape looms mid-way up the tree.

I am now the crazy mom yelling into her neighbour’s yard at a hawk to get out of the tree and to go home.

The kids are screaming through the open windows. “Go away. Go hunt some other birds. Not our robins!”

It finally flies away and the kids watch until bedtime for a return. Thankfully, for today, it has given up.

As we talk and talk about the hawk and robins before bed, the kids state, “The robins are our family. You’re like their other mom looking after them.”

I tiredly smile and nod in agreement and answer, “At least we can ensure they are safe until they grow up.”

How I got so attached and fond of two robins and their four babies is beyond me. But I will continue to chase the predator away to keep them safe knowing that once you have the mothering instinct, it applies to anything in your territory.



2 thoughts on “The Mothering Instinct

  1. Oh my gosh!! We have a nest of robins right outside our kitchen window, too, between two flood lights! We affix platform to the bend of the downspout (because it was so pitiful watching the robins place a twig right on the downspout, go look for more, and come back to find the first twig gone…over and over and over again). We have a family every year, and we become close friends with them every year. Such fun to read your story! I hope that hawk doesn’t sneak in when you’re not watching. -Amy at

    • That is so crazy it’s so similar – it’s amazing how attached we get to them. I was so mad at this hawk where in another situation I would be in awe of it. The dog helps..he has no clue what is he doing to help but he’s just happy when I tell him it’s okay to bark at something. ;D

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