Sadie’s Story

American Robin

[Guest post by Michelle Potter, the Sage Butterfly]

In the spring, many songbirds search out areas in my backyard and the adjacent woods for nests and laying eggs. Sometimes they find a spot in a fir tree or underneath the deck stairs. This spring an American Robin selected an arbor in my side yard covered in Carolina jessamine vine. It was an excellent spot that provided shelter and protection from predators.

I watched her as she began building her nest in the cross branches of the vine. Each time I would walk under the arbor, she would fly away, giving a short grunt as she left. A short time later, she had laid three beautiful blue eggs. I was able to see them when she left the nest for short periods. I was thrilled to have her nearby so I could observe the nest and the nestlings.

Last year, a robin built a nest under our deck, but the eggs were taken by some predator or crow. I have observed many nests of other bird species over the years, watching the nestlings grow to fledge. I was hoping I could watch the robin’s nest in the same way.

American Robin Eggs

After some time, the robin—I called her Sadie–had become quite nonchalant about my passing under the arbor. She would sit with her eggs and even allow me to stop and watch her. She remained on the eggs most of the day except for those short periods when she would leave for a few moments to get a bite to eat. We were becoming accustomed to each other, she and I, and I was filled with anticipation to observe her and her young as they grew and fledged.

A week later, I saw something hanging from the arbor. At first I thought it was the female landing on the nest, but it did not move. As I moved closer to it, I recognized the female. She was hanging from the arbor by turf netting. It seems she had gotten caught and had struggled to get free to no avail. I cut her free and checked to see if there was any sign of life. There was none.

Turf netting removed from Sadie

I wished I had seen her earlier when she was struggling. I could have set her free, and she could have continued nesting. I do not know where she found the netting, but it was around her neck with some of it hanging down her body. The piece hanging down her body had gotten caught on a branch of the Carolina jessamine vine.

Arbor with Carolina jessamine

Turf netting is used to encourage the production of rolled turf for easy harvesting. Our house is eight years old, and the sod was laid with this plastic turf netting. When I dig a hole in the sod, I often come across the netting. We cut a lot of it away as we see it loose in areas because we worry about the wildlife. A few years ago, I found a box turtle struggling to walk away but its foot was caught in the netting, and I cut it free.

Turf netting traps birds, snakes, turtles, frogs and other wildlife. It can be deadly.

Some companies have decided to find alternative methods of growing sod without netting.

Other companies have developed biodegradable turf netting that degrades over time after sod application.

I doubt we will ever use sod as we have been landscaping to reduce the lawn, but if we do we will either sow seed or try to find sod with biodegradable netting. It is sad and disappointing to see animals struggle or die senselessly.
For now, the robin’s nest lays empty and will disintegrate in time. I look out over the yard, and I see many robins hunting on the ground. They hop every few inches, tilt their heads, and grab a worm.

Although I miss the robin I so fondly named, Sadie, I see that life moves on. For many days afterward, I wished and hoped that I could have found her before the struggle was too much for her. Although death is a part of life, I am always saddened by its occurrence—especially when it seems there could have been a different outcome. Goodbye, Sadie.

Michelle A. Potter has been gardening for over 25 years and is the author of The Complete SAVing Source Catalog: A Guide to Saving the Earth and Money. She finds a respite in her garden and in the nature around her and writes a blog, The Sage Butterfly.

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  1. says


    What a heart-rending story; it brought tears to my eyes. I am going to post a link to your post on our local Audubon website, with a notice about turf netting, now that gardening season is here. I do think that if we all spread the word, people will do the right thing.

    I once found a dead chipmunk caught in a roll of berry netting in our garage. I had passed by there not an hour earlier, and there had been no chipmunk. The garage door was open, and I was out gardening. I’m guessing the chipmunk got caught soon after I passed by, and died quickly of dehydration (it was a hot, dry, windy day). Since then I am loathe to have any sort of netting about.

  2. says


    I was very disappointed for a few days after it happened. So many times I have been able to free an animal or bring it to safety in various situations, and I was not able to this time.

    Chipmunks are a favorite. That high-pitched chirp and that cuteness will often stop me in my tracks. It must have been heartbreaking to find it in that way. I have cut a garter snake free from the bird netting over the vegetable garden. Luckily, we now have a fence to encourage the rabbits to nibble elsewhere.

    Thank you for linking to the post. Perhaps with more people aware of the dangers of this netting, there will be fewer animals suffering or dying senselessly.
    The Sage Butterfly recently posted..The Seven Faces of My Garden – GBBD May

  3. says

    Oh heck….This is so very sad..I have never heard of that netting, but I am a new gardener. There is so much we humans use with no consideration for wildlife. Fishing line left here on our pond ensnared a beautiful great blue heron. Seeing it all knotted up and struggling was heartbreaking. My husband and I were able to (carefully) capture the heron and wildlife rehab removed the line and was able to release the bird…a happy ending in this case.. Sadly it is the exception, not the rule…Michelle
    Rambling Woods recently posted..Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.~Ray Bradbury

    • says

      I agree that wildlife is often not considered in the development of products and other things. However, it is always nice to hear that some companies are attempting to be more wildlife-friendly. Perhaps more and more will catch on to the idea. I am so glad you were able to free the Heron. They are such beautiful and peaceful animals.
      The Sage Butterfly recently posted..The Seven Faces of My Garden – GBBD May

  4. says

    New and innovative methods are rarely progress or created without thought to how it affects things that live. Easy….easy for them, not so easy on you. You’ve done a service by telling your sad story. Hopefully many will see this and if they are sodding, demand that it be biodegradable. I’m kinda verklempt here :(
    Loret recently posted..Green, More than the Color of Money

  5. says

    Michelle I am so sad for you and Sadie…I remember the nest under the deck…I had never heard of turf netting here and am glad we do not have it with our sod….but I do get nervous when I have to use netting on the veg gardens…I will be diligent about keeping an eye out for anone caught in it.
    Donna@Gardens Eye View recently posted..Simply The Best-May


  1. […] 154. Sadie’s Story: In the spring, many songbirds search out areas in my backyard and the adjacent woods for nests and laying eggs. Sometimes they find a spot in a fir tree or underneath the deck stairs. This spring an American Robin selected an arbor in my side yard covered in Carolina jessamine vine. It was an excellent spot that provided shelter and protection from predators… ~Michelle Potter […]

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