I don’t know if it’s out of stupidity or some strange, wild nobility, but I’ve got to hand it to the robin red breast: under no circumstances will you see those cross-eyed gingers eating people food. And it isn’t as though they couldn’t get away with it. They can run faster than the starling, which crosses pavement in a stooped, arthritic manner which suggests a perpetual fear of hip injury; they can overpower sparrows, which have the attention span of a stale hamburger bun; and they can certainly out-fly those blasted pigeons, which lumber through air with the grace of a damaged B-52 bomber. So they should have no trouble at all consuming their fair share of the half-eaten pizza mashed into the gutter in Adams Morgan on a Sunday morning.
Yet what do they do? They spend the entire day with their faces in the ground trying to dig up worms. And even then, what happens when a curious human, who looks sort of like me, runs up to watch them eat? They drop that shit like it was an IED and fly off to a nearby tree limb, thankful for their lives, perhaps, but without the meal they could have easily taken with them. It’s no wonder, then, that their lives barely extend beyond two years. This behavior, actually, combined with the birds’ incessant inability to select secure, remote nesting places for their chicks, suggests an idiocy that would mean extinction for a species with meatier breasts or kaleidoscopic plumage.
But the robin, alas, has neither of these things, just a weird, penetrating stare – punctuated by the white feathers around its eyes, which lend the orbits extra definition – that somehow conveys life’s struggles and ultimate futility in a way that might move a top-notch poet to tears. And so, when the robins actually look at me, tauntingly almost, with those eyes of truth, I can’t help but turn away.