Thursday, January 21, 2010

January 21: Robins

Contrary to popular belief, it's not all that unusual to see robins in the winter. Yes, all robins fly south when the seasons change, but for robins north of us--say, in Newfoundland--this is south. This winter, however, robins have been few and far between. The Thomaston-Rockland Christmas Bird Count was remarkable for its paucity of tallied robins. And although a small flock usually forages in my neighborhood each winter, I don't think I've personally seen a robin for two full months, maybe more. Until this morning. Wending my way back to the office on Camden's side streets, I almost drove into a snowbank as I caught sight of a group of a ten or so unmistakable birds scattered in the trees of a backyard, their rosy breasts bright against the backdrop of snow. Finally, some robins!

These Canadian robins are noticeably bigger and darker than their southern counterparts, making them look even more dramatic when they flock together in a snowy tree. In winter robins shift from sucking worms out of our lawns to foraging for fruit in crabapple and mountain ash trees, sumac stands, and berry bushes. In this time of year when finding a territory and a mate aren't the driving imperatives, the birds flock together--partly for the "safety in numbers" factor, but also because many eyes are better than two when looking for a food source. They aren't the only species to do this, either. Winter robins will sometimes be accompanied by bluebirds, their thrush cousins--another odd but not rare sight in these cold climes.

"Newfoundland" robin. Photo courtesy of Luke Seitz.

Although they aren't harbingers of spring just yet, they certainly brightened my morning--almost as much as seeing the first sunshine and blue sky in four days. In just a few months, however, we'll start seeing these sturdy birds gathering by the dozens on thawing fields, lawns, and golf courses. And then we'll start hearing their cheery, chirruping songs in the trees. Those robins will be "our" robins, returned for another nesting season. The hardier Canadian visitors will have headed back north once again.

Winter's festive flock:
robins eating crabapples.
No signs of spring yet.

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