Cognitive Dissonance



Mrs. Cog has an ironclad rule honed and confirmed by decades of experience raising children. When a child arrives home with animal, vegetable or mineral of any species or variety, in a desperate effort to quickly short circuit any attempt to bond with said creature, the child is immediately informed s/he may not keep ‘it’ as a pet, play toy or school show and tell item.

And most importantly, instead of allowing the child to name the guest, the first and most important step in the bonding ritual, the subject is immediately bestowed with a common generic run-of-the-mill name.

With Mrs. Cog that name is “Bob”.

My sincerest and most heartfelt apologies to all those named “Bob” who are reading this silly piece and might feel insulted or possibly even triggered by my almost dismissive attitude towards your name. It’s not personal, but rather a matter of survival when raising a gaggle of kids. Moe, Larry and Curly are all perfectly suitable alternatives. The key is to pick a name and stick with it, regardless of sex, species or color.

I bring this up because the other day Mrs. Cog found a tiny baby Robin on the gravel driveway next to one of our towering spruces. In a bit of a panic because she knew both UPS and the postal delivery person were due at any moment, after erecting a makeshift barrier to ward off the delivery people, she recognized the inadequacy of her efforts and simply scooped the baby up and moved it off the gravel.

Half a day, and a massive hour long monsoon later, she went outside to check on the chick and found the tiny, barely feathered, feebly chirping, uncontrollably shivering, thoroughly exhausted, less-than-an-ounce of helplessness precariously perched on a rock near the house. We can only assume the flood waters deposited the chick on higher ground to save the little soul from certain death by drowning.

After the flood.

Taking this as a sign from the Gods the bird’s destiny was to live, be fruitful and multiply, Mrs. Cog gently grabbed the chick and ushered it into the house. Then, in the ultimate application of reverse psychology, Mrs. Cog announced our newest house guest would hereby be called “Bob”.

After muttering once or twice how we should allow Mother Nature to take its course, only to be immediately rebuked by Mrs. Cog’s piercing eyes and furrowed brow, I decided the best path forward from this point on was to quickly get in line with the Misses’ agenda. It’s not nice to mess with Mother Nature, nor with Mrs. Cog, a true force of nature in her own right.

Peering into the makeshift nest Mrs. Cog had created out of a cardboard box and paper towels, Bob was now toes up and Mrs. Cog was in a panic fearing Bob had given up the ghost. Reaching in I set Bob back up on his feet, then suggested we set up a 60 watt incandescent light nearby and warm the poor fluff ball up a bit.

Bob was soaking wet and any natural oil it may have had to repeal water from its meager supply of feathers was now thoroughly washed away. When you’ve been soaked to the bone, a wet blanket won’t warm you up. The chick was drenched and close to death from hypothermia.

Bob under the heat lamp and back from the dead.

While I monitored Bob, Mrs. Cog conducted a frantic Google search on how to care for a baby Robin. Initially we thought Bob was a fledgling, a baby bird ready to leave the nest, but not quite able to fully take care of itself. But after a day or so we realized Bob remained a nestling, still needing the care and attention of mom and dad inside the nest.

While we had seen occasional attempts by the ‘rents to entice Bob closer to the tree where we presumed the nest was, it was also obvious the parents were not able to properly care for the chick in this state. There remained several of Bob’s siblings up in the nest above, who we could plainly hear but not see, for the parents to attend to. With Bob on the ground, his survival chances were slim to none without some type of intervention.

That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.

I am inclined to conserve emotional capital when the odds are stacked against realizing a return, while Mrs. Cog tends to spend with abandon and reaps large rewards along with tremendous losses. Therefore I struggled to remain aloof and distant from the soggy little piker while Mrs. Cog’s mothering instinct kicked into high gear. The rest, as they say, is history.

The first few days with Bob were an object lesson in conspicuous consumption and excess poo, bringing to mind the old saying garbage in, garbage out. Since he quickly figured out the human forefinger was actually a Bob feeder, any time a hand came within two feet of his head, Bob immediately hunched down, opened his beak wide and screamed to be fed.

Almost immediately I thought of the voracious and vocal Venus Fly Trap demanding Seymour feed him inLittle Shop of Horrors. The glaring similarity was simply too obvious it ignore. And while I am fairly certain it was just an optical illusion or possibly a massive example of fear consuming my mind, I swear to the bird Gods if you looked close enough you could actually see Bob growing. At the very least, there was a significant difference in appearance and stature from one day to the next, later confirmed by a quick scan of pictures taken over the ensuing days.

And I can assure you there are plenty of pictures, movies and family portraits taken by Mrs. Cog with a minor assist from me.

One of 72,693 beauty shots of Bob

Bob and Mrs. Cog bonded within a few hours, while I managed to hold out a little while longer. The little gobbler was simply too cute to resist and it was obvious he had a huge personality that was blossoming right before our eyes. It was also quite evident Bob was intelligent and getting smarter by the day. Soon enough he had us wrapped around our little fingers.

Based upon the reading Mrs. Cog had done, Robin’s grow rapidly and are ready to leave the nest around day 13, with a lingering dependence upon Mom and Dad for an additional 10 days. We learned the developmental steps to look for and discussed how we could minimize the damage to Bob that might result from direct human interaction.

Almost immediately Bob became the center of our lives and my respect for any adult Robin raising a brood of 3 or 4 chicks skyrocketed. The Interwebby informed us baby Robin’s consume two or three worms per hour. Can you imagine being the mom and dad who gaze down into the nest and see four Venus Fly Traps demanding to be constantly fed? “Feed me Seymour” is not an exaggeration in the least. Essentially the four weeks after the eggs hatch are a non-stop example of the demands of bird parenthood.

At first I thought our prison sentence was limited to the time when Bob the nestling transitioned to Bob the fledgling and he would vacate the premises. But then we read that even after leaving the nest, fledglings still required the full attention of their parents for ten days to feed and care for them as they stretched their wings and practiced their life skills. Visions of Bob permanently camped in the basement eating junk food and playing video games haunted my dreams for the next few nights.

I cannot emphasize how amazing it was to witness the rapid growth and development of Bob. That fuzzy ball of feathers, feet and beak we scooped out of the flood waters rapidly morphed into even more beak attached to burgeoning wings, breast, feet and head. There was a marked difference in growth and behavior between morning and evening and again overnight when seen for the first time the next morning.

While we understood there would be some human imprinting on Bob simply from contact with us, we attempted to minimize this by keeping him outside during the day except during heavy rain. Once he was fed in the morning, sometimes stuffed with a second breakfast if he was particularly ravenous, Mrs. Cog would take him outside to the base of a dozen pines arranged as a wind fence near where he was originally found and place him in the grass and weeds underneath. She would then return every few hours to check on him and feed him if he wished.

Bob patiently waits for 6th breakfast.

And boy did he wish for us to continue to feed him. What growing baby Robin wouldn’t want to gorge at an endless buffet of Friskies beef filet with gravy. Hilariously, Bob quickly came to wear a semi permanent crust of gravy on his beak until Mrs. Cog took to bringing a wet cloth to clean his beak after feeding. You simply had to be there to witness Mrs. Cog carefully wiping Bob’s chin, breast and beak to appreciate the humor of the situation.

Mrs. Cog took to mothering Bob like a duck takes to water, instantly developing cooing, lip smacking, chirping and kissing noises which Bob quickly associated with Mother Cog and feeding time. Often when Mrs. Cog returned to the area under the pines with food dish and wet rag in hand, Bob was nowhere to be found. Mother Nature, in her infinite wisdom, had endowed Bob with the perfect camouflage suite of feathers, shape and color. All Mother Cog needed to do was make her little noises and Bob came running, often chirping back in response to the human dinner bell.

It was simply adorable watching those two interact. You could see the pride swell within Mrs. Cog when Bob would respond to different stimuli or perform a new task, often with some gentle prompting and coaching from the mother hen. I kidded her about flapping her arms to teach Bob to fly. Ever the good sport, Mrs. Cog began to flap her wings...err...arms with great flair and the distinct promise she might actually become airborne. I have no doubt that safely out of sight she engaged in some amateur flying lessons with Bob.

Normally the sun/craft room is where our 1 and ½ cats store their food dishes in-between forays to their own personally customized buffet. With the appearance of Bob, the craft room became Bob’s safe space and the cats were summarily ejected anytime Bob was brought in from the outdoors, usually at night. We felt Bob would not survive a woods teaming with possum, skunk and assorted other hungry critters while Bob remained landlocked, unable or unwilling to fly.

When indoors, Mrs. Cog kept Bob in a large transparent plastic storage bin constantly (re)lined with newspaper (Bob was a prolific poo-er) along with a filled water dish Bob loved to stand in along with a small platter containing beef filets Bob would ignore unless hand fed. The sun room is separated from the rest of the house by a sliding glass door, with another slider on the opposite side leading outdoors.

The cats, having been repeatedly displaced, would first gather on the back deck to discuss strategy, then park themselves directly in front of opposing sliders and watch as Bob would prance, preen and frolic about with complete abandon. Tramp, in particular, would lick his chops as he watched the animated hors d'oeuvre remain just out of reach behind the thick glass.

Oh the inhumanity of it all.

Tramp waiting for someone, anyone, to slip up.


Gray, our 1/2 cat, carefully inspects the security system for flaws.

I suspect Bob just loved tormenting the cats. I’m told it’s a bird thing, instinctual and in their genes. Mrs. Cog swears she taught him no such behavior, but considering how easily she toys with me I find it exceedingly difficult to believe her.

By the fifth evening Bob was no longer satisfied with remaining within his bin and suddenly began perching on its rim. Another life skill quickly mastered, for we had read he must learn to perch in order to begin flying. By night six he took to riding on Mrs. Cog’s finger, then quickly progressed to arm, shoulder and head. He still wasn’t actually flying, but his hopping was explosive, nearly expert and always accompanied with much wing flapping and chirping. We knew his solo was just around the corner.

There was a growing sense of urgency on our part to see him progress because a long scheduled trip north for my elderly mother’s birthday was rapidly approaching, now just a day away, and we wanted Bob to be prepared as best he could for two days and nights of solo living.

Therefore it was imperative he actually be able to fly in order to secure a perch further up in the trees and away from the prowling night predators. He had been hopping higher and higher among the lower branches, but we needed to see a solo flight if we were to leave the house Saturday morning with any sort of peace of mind.

This morning, Friday, Mrs. Cog and Bob were tending the garden, frequently interrupted by Mrs. Cog snapping beauty shots of Bob perched on various posts, buckets and garden implements. I was on the lawn mower outside the garden around 100 feet away trying to tidy up the place before we left for the weekend and apparently the roar of the mower was upsetting Bob, who was becoming increasingly agitated.

Suddenly Mrs. Cog lost track of Bob, who was no longer perched within reach. After a brief search nearby, she walked to the closed gate and found Bob standing on a cross brace about three feet off the ground. Obviously the only way he got there was to fly. Enticing Bob onto her finger, she left the garden and walked Bob towards the stand of trees. It was then I came roaring around the corner on the mower and startled Bob. Off he flew, away from Mrs. Cog and up into the pines.

Bob on the garden gate.

Even though no one saw my first flight, can I still get my license?

Mrs. Cog beamed with delight, having witnessed her baby’s first flight. The pure joy splashed across her face was a sight to behold. Clapping and hopping up and down in excitement, she turned in search of me to see if I had seen Bob’s first flight. I had indeed and was grinning from ear to ear. Mission accomplished. We now know Bob can fly when needed and hide up in the dense pine branches.

Incredibly, within five minutes the entire stand of pines erupted in a course of bird song and chirps. While I am sure there might be a thousand explanations for the sudden chorus of animated bird song, we choose to believe it was the neighborhood welcoming Bob back from the human world. Neither I nor Mrs. Cog had ever heard such a loud and diverse crescendo of bird song coming from that stand of trees, let alone anywhere else.

Several times over the next few hours Mrs. Cog returned to the tree in an attempt to seduce Bob down with food. For the moment, at least, he’s wants nothing to do with us. And we couldn’t be any happier with the snub.



Cognitive Dissonance

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