Don’t Walk

American robin on nest on traffic signal (photo by Kate St. John)
American robin on nest on traffic signal (photo by Kate St. John)

Yesterday morning when I got off the bus I looked at the walk signal even though I wasn’t going to cross the street.

Why did I look up?  Did I see something move?  What didn’t look right?

Aha!  An American robin is on a nest in front of the Don’t Walk hand.

What was she thinking when she built her nest there?  I’m sure the traffic signal is warm and the metal hood provides a shelter but the hand cycles through blink/on/off and she’s sitting right next to a loud mechanical cuckoo that calls every few minutes when the Walk signal lights up.

Maybe she wasn’t thinking at all.  I’ve had some experience with robin nest site selection and have reached the conclusion that robins aren’t very smart.  Inevitably they pick a site that has some safe characteristics but at least one glaring downside for baby birds.  This site has few predators but it’s an asphalt jungle where the fledglings could fall in the street.

I hope this bird succeeds but she’s facing tough odds.  Even if all goes well at the nest only 25% of American robins survive their first year.  The species makes up for it by laying three or four eggs per clutch and raising two – or more – broods per season.

Meanwhile the Don’t Walk Robin sits patiently.  She’ll incubate her eggs for 12-14 days and feed babies in the nest for 13 more.  If you want to visit her, look at the walk signal next to Starbucks at Forbes & Craig in Oakland.  If she’s not there just wait, she’ll come back soon.


(photo by Kate St. John)

p.s.  Have you seen a nest in an unusual place?  Let me know by leaving a comment below.

23 thoughts on “Don’t Walk

  1. Hi Kate,

    I’m a biology professor at Duquesne and our building has a wide covered walkway all around it. There is one robin who waits until spring break and then she builds her nest over the entry door that is protected by the covered walkway. It’s dry, warm (warm air leaks from the building there) and not very busy during spring break. The problem occurs when the all of the students come back and are constantly going in and out of the door! Once the babies are born, we put notes on the door to use another entry way so we don’t disturb the babies. The momma is pretty nonplussed by all the humans and the humans are pretty good about not disturbing her!


  2. Kate —

    At our field station, Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology, several years ago an American Robin placed it’s nest on the top of the back left tire on a car that hadn’t been moved for sometime in the PLE parking lot!

    University of Pittsburgh

  3. Last year a robin built a nest atop one of the clothesline poles in my neighbor’s yard. I loved the fact that I could check on it by merely peering over my deck (my apt’s on the upper floors). I worried, however, that the nest was completely unsheltered. A couple of days after the babies hatched there was a bad thunderstorm… When I got up the next morning, mama was mournfully cleaning out the nest. OK, so I’m anthropomorphizing there since I was the one sniffling. She was probably just working on instinct, but when she had cleaned out the last bit, she stood there for a bit before flying on. The nest is still there.

  4. Last year I chaperoned a school field trip to the Zoo. In the pavilion in the Kid’s Kingdom where we ate lunch, a child shouted out “Hey, there’s a bird in there!”
    (in the hedge along one side)
    Sure enough – well-screened, but really less than 2 ft from the nearest table
    was a robin sitting on a nest right at table level.
    That pavilion would likely have noisy children in and around it on every nice day.

  5. A Robin made a nest right outside the door to my apartment. My apartment is on the second floor and there is a staircase outside…sort of a fire escape but not… since thats the entrance to my apartment and for people on the floor above me…

    The robin made its nest right under the stairs that head up to the third floor directly across from my door. Not only do my girlfriend and I use the staircase constantly going in and out but there is also two apartments above me. My loud neighbors stomp stomp stomp up the stairs almost like they are trying to be loud and annoying which I think they are trying to be annoying since they are getting evicted.. thats a different story… Anyway! My girlfriend first noticed the nest when the robin first started building it and she said we should probably get rid of it. But I really didn’t want to since I am a softy and just hoped the Robin would be smart enough to realize that it was surrounded by loud annoying people..

    Of course the Robin didn’t abandon the nest! So a few days a go I went out and there I was face to face with it. Its eyes were bugging out of its head with fear. So I remembering hearing that they can be quite territorial and tried to scare it off before I headed down the stairs. I thought okay I will get rid of this nest or move it some where else if there isn’t any eggs in it.. but I know your not supposed to touch their nests and I had a cd case in my hand.. so I tipped the nest very carefully with my cd case to see if there was any eggs in it…of course there just happened to be one lonely egg sitting in the nest.. so I couldn’t move it or destroy the nest.. I just don’t have it in me.

    So now every time we go in or out of the apartment we scare the Robin off so it doesn’t attack us.. haha.. Every time my girlfriend leaves or comes home from work she makes me walk out with her to protect her from the Robin haha.. So I guess we have a new neighbor now.. or neighbors..once that lonely egg hatches or maybe there is more eggs now.. I haven’t looked again.. and don’t plan on it since I don’t feel like getting my eyes poked out by mother Robin.

  6. Many people have robins nesting quite near them. Your robin may have chosen the fire escape because it thought, “With so many noisy people around the crows and snakes won’t come and steal my babies.” It was counting on the presence of humans for protection.

    The robin has no reason to attack you and will certainly not do so if you pass by peacefully. I have never seen a robin attack someone but if you persist in trying to frighten it, who knows? Are you afraid of birds? If you pass by quietly you will be less agitated and so will the robin.

    p.s. You are correct that it is illegal to disturb nests and eggs.

  7. I was in line at Canada’s Wonderland to go on a roller coaster, and saw Mama Robin nesting on a ledge of one of the steel beams holding up the ride. Every few minutes it would shudder like crazy when the coaster went by … I felt so bad for those babies.

  8. There is a red tail hawk nest on rt. 148 in McKeesport. I have seen her feeding some youngsters but can not tell how many there are.

    There is also a red tail on Homestead Duquesne Road along side of the railroad tracks. There is some youngsters there but I have not been there lately to see how many.

  9. Last year, an American Robin decided to build her nest in our metal awning right outside our front door. She flew off to a nearby shrub every time we opened the door, but we tried our best to not disturb her. She successfully raised two chicks there – the poor things barely fit in the little nest by the time they were ready to fledge! Needless to say, she chose another location for her subsequent clutch(es) that year!

    On a similar note, we used to have a mailbox under that same awning that was mounted on the side of the house within about 6 inches of the front door. It was the kind that is open on top so you can just drop the mail in, but with no lid. Many years ago a Carolina Wren decided that was the place to be and built her nest inside the mailbox. After we discovered she was building a nest there – and she was determined to build it, too, regardless of disruption by mail or efforts to deter her – we had the mailman temporarily hand us the mail instead of putting it in the box. I don’t remember exactly how many babies she had, but she successfully reared about 2-3 babies in that nest and would fly off to a nearby shrub and fuss at us like crazy every time we opened the door!

  10. We have a wreath on our door that a mother robin, who was fully preggos and ready to lay her eggs, moved into right away. Unfortionately, she must have been desparate for a place b/c that door was pretty well trafficked. I put up a sign, not to use the door and to call, beep horn or knock on backdoor.

    The nesting seemed to be going well. I was able to keep a watch on the progress from the window above. Everyone was so careful not to disturb her. So she layed a clutch of 4 and then this morning, stupid jerk from FedEx came by POUNDING on the door for me to sign his note pad. I was in the shower when this happened. I was so furious. I threw on a robe and ran out through my OPENED garage and said “can’t you see we have baby birds?? Why cant you read the sign clearly stating not to use that door???” He just shrugged, said, umm,sorry. Need yer signature…

    Those sweet little babies are now gone, the nest cleared. I looked around the whole yard for them, no birds. The mother is still lurking in the trees crying and I tried to see if she could let me know what became of them. I f I could put them back in the nest. I dont know, this is so very upsetting and just tradgic.

  11. Hi Kate,

    We have a robin’s nest outside our kitchen patio door, on top of the lamp post. This is our main access to our patio, and the kids playset. Although we knew the nest was there, and it was great observation for the kids, the eggs have now hatched and we are the prey to our Predator Mother Robin!

    I’ve been attacked at least three times trying to water the flowers on the patio (this was before I knew the eggs has hatched). Others people using the patio have been attacked. I’m afraid for the kids to go outside for fear they’ll be attacked.

    Wondering how much longer we will be shut out from access to the backyard? It’s Memorial Weekend, and we’re afraid to go out back. The kids can’t swing or slide.

    Also, once the baby birds fly away, what do I do with the nest? And how can I prevent them from coming back and nesting next spring?

    This is driving me crazy!

  12. I read once that there were seven birds that did not walk. One was a humming bird and an other i can remember was a Kingfisher. Like to know of others. Thanks.

  13. Lavelle, baby robins fly at about 13 days after they hatch. After all the babies have left the nest the adults will be focused on the babies’ locations. I know this sounds dumb but you could try using an open umbrella to shade yourself from attack in the meantime. It won’t be for long.
    After the nest is totally unoccupied for 2-3 days, cover the lamp top area with a plastic garbage bag or something to make it unappealing to the mother robin. Make sure it has no flat place on which to rebuild the nest. She will look for a new site as soon as her first brood are able to feed themselves – or until they succumb to cats/hawks. It takes her only 2-3 days to construct a new nest.
    The bag – or whatever you use – will look dumb but it will force the mother to build elsewhere. You might want to keep the bag in place for the rest of the season or figure out a tasteful way to make the lamp permanently unappealing to robins. Mother robin is looking for a flat spot with an overhang.

  14. It’s been a long time since anyone has commented on this post, but Kate recently linked to it, and I just had to add that we’ve had TWO nests on our front porch! One year, a house finch built a nest in one of our hanging plants. We kept tabs on the eggs and the hatchlings whenever we watered the plant. One day, though, when I took the plant down to water it, the chicks got scared and all jumped out of the nest! 🙁 I hope they were old enough to survive.

    More recently, we had a robin nest on our Easter wreath right outside the front door. We could watch the nest from a nearby window. The mother robin never attacked us, but she would make a lot of noise if we got close. The chicks hatched around Easter time. Very inspiring. ^^

  15. A mother robin has built a nest directly over my front door. There’s a lil slate, to keep water off. There is also a roof over the porch, which goes over the trailer a lil. Its been months. I’ve continuously knocked it down several times. She stopped for a week, then caught me working and built it again. It’s completed now. I reached in and felt eggs. Now I can’t touch it. I just hope she won’t attack me or my kids. She flys off when I go in or out. Though she don’t fly out of sight, lol.

    1. Nicole, mother Robin will incubate the eggs for 13 days and then the babies will be in the nest 13 days. She won’t attack

  16. The most bizarre location for a Robin’s nest, that I’ve ever seen, occurred a few years ago here in Wexford. My son owns two vehicles, a truck and a car, he used his car to commute to work all week. On Saturday morning, when he was about to get into his truck…he noticed a nest in the WHEEL well. He wasn’t about to NOT drive his truck for a month or two…so he called me to come and move it. We put it in the ONLY tree nearby….unfortunately…it fell out with in a few days. 🙁

  17. A few years ago, my husband and I hauled our living quarters horse trailer to VA to compete in an endurance ride. After our camp was set-up, I heard soft chirping noises coming from under the gooseneck of the trailer. Uh….a bird’s nest with four fledging phoebes was soliding attached to a narrow ledge behind the propane tanks. Those poor babies must have had an “endurance ride” of their own during the 4 hour trip from PA. Several friends helped us take care of the birds throughout our long weekend….bugs and worms were added to menu. Amazingly, they all survived and we stayed an extra day so that all the babies could fly. Upon our return home, the mother phoebe immediately flew to the trailer to inspect the empty nest. We then removed the nest !!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *