Bird Watcher's General Store

Robins - 05/28/04


Dear Bird Folks,

It seems like every week you guys write about a bird that I've never seen in my yard. I have a rather small yard and the most exotic birds that I ever get to see are robins. Will you ever be writing about robins or are they just too boring to write about?

-Sharon, Falmouth

Come on Sharon,

I write about robins all the time. Although I admit, most questions about robins are submitted during January, when every time somebody sees one, the "robins are back, spring is here" hysteria sweeps Cape Cod. By spring, the robin talk quiets down until the following January, when once again, visits from wintering robins kick off another round of hysteria. All of this is fine with me, I just reprint the same advice that I gave the January before. Ah, short term memory loss, I knew something good would come of it.

The robin is one of the most common birds on the continent. It is properly referred to as the "American Robin", not because it is an overly patriotic bird, but because it was misnamed by a group of early settlers. The early British, still sea sick from crossing the Atlantic and high on tea, named one of the first birds that they saw "robin". They thought our robin looked much like the English (European) Robin, which of course is stupid. I look more like Elvis, than those two birds look alike. The American Robin is a 10" long robust bird, while the little weeny English Robin is barely over 5" long and is rumored to be petrified of worms.

The American Robin can be found just about everywhere in North America. It ranges from the hot steamy tropics of Mexico to the frozen world above the Arctic Circle. Tremendously adaptable, robins thrive in remote areas, hundreds of miles from the nearest human, or in the smallest inner-city backyard. Yet, whether it be deep in the lonely woods or in the chaotic city parks, robins bring their cheery song wherever they go.

And singing is what they do best. Any insomniac will tell you that the robin is the first bird to greet the new day. Long before the sun gets up in the morning, the robin, in the pitch dark, sings loud and clear from its favorite perch. When we think of robins, we think of worms. Yet only about ten or twenty percent of the robin's diet is made of earthworms. The bulk of their diet is insects and fruit. The stereotypical image of a robin hunting is one of the bird hopping across an expanse of lawn, twisting its head side to side, "listening" for worms just below the surface. However, contrary to the old belief, robins do not hunt by listening, but by actually looking for any worm exposing itself. Cocking of the head merely allows the bird to gain a better view of the area ahead.

Robins have undoubtedly benefitted from humans. They thrive on the fruit and ornamental bushes we plant. They also nest in the trees that we have added to what was once the Great Plains. Yet, many millions have fallen victim to uncontrolled pets or have suffered because of our love for the perfect lawn. No matter how innocent it seems, overuse of some lawn care products have been rough on robins, other birds and perhaps even on us.

I think just about every child's first baby bird experience is with young robins in their nest. Robins love to build in the evergreen next to our back porch or by our kitchen window. Their nest is a fairly bulky woven bowl of mud and dried grasses. And, in what can only be described as one of the biggest coincidences in all of nature, the eggs that they lay are all colored "robin's egg blue".

Robins are feisty when it comes to defending their territories. Some robins are so aggressive they will attack their own reflections on nearby windows. Attacking their reflections rarely harms the bird, but it does lead to messy windows and an endless stream of complaining phone calls to us, like it's our fault.

No Sharon, robins are far from boring. Their song and their color brightens our yards every season of the year. That last line "every season of the year" is important to remember. Remembering that will save lots of hysteria come January. Save that hysteria for something else, like madly racing to the grocery store every time they predict a bit of snow.


Artwork by Catherine Clark


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