This time of year, some robins get a little confused by their own reflection. (Scott Anderson/Associated Press)
Columnist

Ah, spring, when a young bird’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of . . .

Murder!

That, at least, is what seems to be happening at Don and Barbara Schmid’s house in Ocean Pines, Md. In very early spring, a male robin started beating itself against the skylight of their cathedral-ceilinged great room. The Schmids think the bird is enraged by its own reflection.

“It seems like it’s a territorial thing,” Don told me on the phone. “Barbara calls it paranoid. I really don’t know. How do you get into a bird’s head? That’s why they call it a birdbrain, I guess.”

The Schmids are less annoyed than concerned. The poor bird practically beats itself into a stupor as it pummels its tail and wings against the slanted glass.

“He leaves feathers up there,” Don said. “I’m looking up there right now, and a couple of feathers are sticking up.”

Don said they thought about getting some of those black bird silhouettes — owl, hawk — but with the skylight 30 feet high, there was no easy way to affix them.

Then they had an idea: balloons. They’ve been going to the grocery store and buying helium “Happy Birthday” balloons. They attach a length of string to the bottom and float them up to the ceiling. When the robin returns, they pull on the string, bobbing the balloon up and down.

“They last roughly about a week, the helium in them,” Don said.

And then Don goes back to the Harris Teeter to get another balloon. They’ve been through a dozen or so.

“I told [the cashiers], ‘You’ll never guess what we’re getting this for,’” Don said.

They couldn’t, so he told them.

“They laughed,” he said.

But the balloons seem to work. Before the balloon ploy, the robin would spend practically all day up there shadowboxing. Now it only comes two or three times a day.

Stephanie Mason, senior naturalist at the Audubon Naturalist Society, said such behavior is not unusual.

“Robins are notorious,” she said. “Northern cardinals also will do the same thing. They will see a reflection of themselves but interpret it as a competing male. They will essentially be flying at it, trying to chase away this other male.”

Big picture windows that reflect trees are especially targeted. “It looks like he’s looking into the forest, but he’s not,” Stephanie said.

The Schmids’ balloon is a clever idea. The raptor silhouettes can work, too. Some people put up aluminum foil streamers to break up the reflection.

Stephanie said the robin should cool it as the spring nesting season wanes. But robins — and cardinals — can lay another set of eggs in the summer. The bird may return again to engage with its own worst enemy.

“We’ll put up with it,” Don said. “It’s nature.”

It’s a gas, gas, gas

Is there anything worse than computers? I mean, they’ve made our lives more enjoyable in countless ways, but when they go wrong, they annoy like nothing else.

Just ask some customers of Washington Gas. As have a lot of companies, it’s made a push to encourage people to ditch their paper bills and transact business online. I get the same plea every time I sign on to my bank and credit card websites: Don’t you want to go totally paperless? Pretty please!

I always say no. I already pump my own gas and print out my own movie tickets. The least you can do is send me a bill I can hold between my fingers.

A reader from Alexandria told me he signed up for the e-portal that Washington Gas introduced in December. His understanding was that they’d email him his bill every month.

But he didn’t get it the first month. Or the second. Or ever. He’s had to call Washington Gas each time to find out what his balance was so he could send in a check. That sort of defeats the clean, seamless, hassle-free experience that he was promised.

Washington Gas is aware of the problem.

“There have been glitches,” spokesman Jim Monroe said. “In hindsight, I think what we concluded was the test program for introducing the site enhancements wasn’t as robust as it should have been.”

Jim added that a lot of the issues have been resolved and that the company is working with consumers to chase down any remaining problems.

Meanwhile, my Alexandria reader said he’s switching back to a paper bill.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.