The Robin and the Red Thread

Terry Barca

Red-capped Robin, male
Photo Credit: David Jenkins

I’m pretty sure it was a Friday.

At the very least it was late in the week.

I remember because I like Fridays, not just because it’s the day before the weekend. Every day is pretty much the same to me, I don’t ‘do’ weekends.

It started because my dad taught a sparrow to trust him.

It took months and months but eventually this most distrustful of birds would land on my dad’s hand and eat crumbs.

I always marveled at my dad’s patience.

How many people could convince a sparrow to trust him?

For months after my father died, the little bird would hang around outside the back door waiting for my dad to come out and feed him.

It broke my heart.

The little bird did not trust me; I wasn’t the right human but he would come close and I’d throw him crumbs.

I wasn’t around often enough because gradually the bird came less and less until finally he didn’t come at all.

I had other things on my mind. My dad was dead, my mum was distraught, and I had a young family of my own to feed so I forgot about this brave little bird and went on to live my life.


Time flew by and my kids were grown and off building families of their own.

I had time on my hands and a mind that would not behave.

Spending time in the garden seemed like a good way to pass the time.

A garden is different when you are actually in it.


Looking at it through a window gives you a rough idea but sitting on a chair surrounded by it, is amazing.

Slowly, you start to melt into your surroundings.

You hear things that you didn’t notice when you first sat down. The birds and the bees seem to forget that you are sitting there and get on with living their lives.

As the years have gone by, I have noticed new species of birds in our yard as each new season rolls around but I had never seen a robin, not until spring a few years ago.

My wife had been working on the back deck and there were threads left over from her project.

A red thread had caught the robin’s eye and he was working his way toward it while keeping one eye on me.

My fascination kept me very still as the robin picked up the thread.

He stopped for a moment, looked directly at me and flew away.

My guess was he was building a nest and needed the red thread to impress his mate.

“Look what I got for you today dear, and right from under the nose of a human.”

I imagined her being very impressed.

The next day I put out another piece of red thread, but he didn’t come back.

I was a little disappointed, but magic rarely happens twice in one week.

I left the thread where it was and when I checked a few days later it was gone, probably blown away by the wind, but maybe he had come back and collected it.

The thought brought a smile to my face and brightened a particularly bad day.

I imagined a small nest with two pieces of red thread running through it and a particularly proud male robin sitting next to it. “Look what I made.”


A few days later I found myself in the yard again armed with a cup of strong tea.

On the railing, about where the red thread had been, was a small gold coin.

I know it was gold because I showed it to a friend who collects coins.


He said it was not particularly rare but it was solid gold, probably a late eighteenth-century Spanish coin, worth about two hundred dollars, give or take.

There was no logical answer to how the coin got there so I concocted an illogical one; the robin put it there as payment for the red thread.

You think I’m nuts, I can tell; but I don’t care.


That day I put out another piece of red thread and a few days later there it was, another small gold coin.

I thought about tying one end of the thread to my finger and seeing if the robin was brave enough to tug on the thread in much the same way that the sparrow had taken crumbs from my dad’s hand.

In the end I decided to respect the robin’s privacy; after all, he was bringing me something he thought I would enjoy in return for the precious red thread.

The ritual stopped at the end of spring but started up again the next year and the year after that.

Spring has begun again and I’m patiently waiting for my robin to return.

It’s not about the coins anymore; I’ve got a trunk full of them and any way you slice it, that should see me through, even if I live to be a hundred.

I just want him to come back because it keeps me connected to something special.

A huge pile of small gold coins is rather special but having a deal going with a wild creature is something amazing.

I might be a bit crazy but at least I know that one small bird likes me.

I’ve got lots of red thread, a big cup of tea, and all the time in the world to just sit and wait.


Terry Barca is a writer who lives and works in the hills on the edge of Melbourne, Australia. He’s been published a few times but always as non-fiction. Email: araneus1[at]

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