Robins living near a mail slot have postal carriers flying

Sending a message

May 16, 2007|By Nia-Malika Henderson | Nia-Malika Henderson,sun reporter

In one corner are two orange-breasted, yellow-beaked robins and their brand-new brood of chicks nestled in a wreath just above a mail slot.

And in the other, two intrepid postal carriers, who promised to deliver in rain, sleet or snow - but there is no mention of birds.

For the past year, Martha DelPizzo's mail carrier has slipped letters, bills, magazines and catalogs through the brass slot, where the mail would land with a splat in the foyer, and that was that.

Until the birds arrived and things went Hitchcock.

Last week, no more mail was being delivered to the DelPizzo home, and mail carriers were regularly rushing down the Butchers Hill block with a pair of 3-ounce songbirds giving chase. Now the U.S. Postal Service carriers on that route have decided to skip the house on S. Patterson Park Avenue and leave DelPizzo's mail with a neighbor.

The fracas started with a silk dogwood wreath hung on a green front door. While DelPizzo thought it was a perfect way to mark spring, this pair of robins thought it was a perfect place to stash their new family.

Within days, four sky-blue eggs appeared. Then, on Monday, the hatchlings arrived.

DelPizzo, a member of the Audubon Society who doesn't consider herself a birder, didn't want to disturb the robins. "I walked up the steps and looked at them and their little heads popped up, and then I told the mother she had done a beautiful job," DelPizzo said. "She just sat in the tree and cawed at me. She didn't want to hear it."

Robins cannot understand human speech patterns and, in fact, they see humans as giant, catlike blobs, bent on plunder.

And when it comes to defending those nests that they've spent so much time building, and those eggs they've laid, they often resort to very aggressive behavior.

Like divebombing mail carriers, or whoever else dares to draw near.

"The bird's little - it can't really hurt you. We are not talking about an owl here," said David Curson, director of bird conservation for the state office of the National Audubon Society. "But it can look scary when it flies right at you."

And so a robin, which often seems to aim for the eyes, can make a mail carrier run halfway down the block, ducking and weaving and flailing.

That's what happened to mail carrier supervisor Lamont Cooper. Just after lunch Wednesday, he got a call from Chawanda Tisdale.

There was danger on the route, Tisdale reported. Flying, pecking, chirping, feathered danger, and she couldn't make her rounds.

Cooper, a muscular guy who has been in the mail business for 12 years, supervises Tisdale, whom he describes as one of his best carriers. So he joined Tisdale on her route, wanting to investigate, but also intent on showing her that birds have no business stopping the flow of mail.

"When we walked toward the house, she stopped five houses down. I kept walking, and that's when I noticed the bird. But I wasn't afraid at that time, because I'm a supervisor. I am the leader," Cooper said. "I'm thinking, `I'm not going to let a bird stop me from putting the mail in the mailbox.' I looked back at my carrier in disbelief that she couldn't deliver the mail."

Soon enough, though, Cooper was a believer.

Down at the green door, he swooped in, mail in hand, and a robin flew from the nest to the nearby maple tree.

Then the manic, loud, fretful chirping - to Cooper it sounded like barking - began.

So Cooper, thinking he could fake the birds out, acted like he had something in his hand, and threw that invisible nothing at the birds.

Startled (or maybe just amused and ready), the birds scattered, faking Cooper out.

"Before I could get the mail in the slot, Mommy and Daddy came at me from both angles around my head," he said. "I stumbled, regained my composure. And then I started running towards the mail lady. I couldn't believe I let myself down, and I couldn't deliver the mail."

The birds followed him down the block. As he bobbed and weaved, Tisdale laughed an I-told-you-so and DelPizzo's mail ended up with the neighbor.

That's how it'll stay for now, until the birds get their flight clearance, which should happen in about a week or so, said DelPizzo, who researched robins on the Internet. The wreath will remain after the robins leave. But DelPizzo promises that next time she'll toss any nests that appear out of nowhere.

"I would really like to have my mail and my front door back, " she said. "Birds are cute, but they could use the park."

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