Maternal robin cares for orphaned magpies

BENTON CITY -- Susan Bailey loves all living things, especially in the animal kingdom.

She has fed the hungry, rescued the abused and neglected, and nursed the maimed and sick back to health.

But lately, she's been going head-to-head, and not in a good way, with a robin who's taken up residence in her Benton City yard.

"This is a very aggressive bird who will dive bomb and hit anyone who comes near my front door," she said.

The bird has gone so far as to swoop down and smack Bailey in the face, splitting her lip.

With a little investigating, Bailey discovered there's a perfectly good reason the robin was kicking up such a fuss.

She has two large blue spruce trees that grow on either side of her walkway near the front door. In one of the trees she discovered a nest of baby birds the robin is protecting.

"When I was spreading mulch under those trees in May, the robin hit me twice on the shoulder, letting me know it did not want me there," she said.

The really strange part of this feather-brained story, Bailey said, is that the baby birds don't even belong to the robin.

"I was amazed to find out the babies were actually magpies," she said. "I know there are people who shoot magpies (because they are scavengers) and I'm afraid that is what might have happened to the mother of those babies."

So the robin decided to become the surrogate caretaker to the orphan magpies, and the bird is one tough momma, she added.

When Bailey's neighbor Shirley Merritt recently came for coffee, she was attacked by the robin too.

"The first time that robin hit me I just thought it had bad eyesight," Merritt said with a chuckle. "But about eight seconds later it whopped down on me again."

The bird didn't make any noise while it was attacking her, Merritt said, but it squawked up a storm as it dipped and dived at her.

"Every time I go over to Susan's that bird will make sneak attacks and cuff me on the shoulder or head," Merritt said. "It's a kamikaze robin."

Bailey said the robin dive bombs her every time she is out in the yard near that tree.

"That bird has been a thorn in my side, but at least I know those babies are well fed and well protected. And, hopefully the robin will help show them how to fly too, in a few weeks," Bailey said with laugh.

"Then maybe I'll be able to go out and weed my yard again. In the meantime, I don't need to worry about solicitors."

* Dori O'Neal: 509-582-1514; doneal@tricityherald.com