Everyone Likes American Robins

Robins are often considered harbingers of spring, and in some places they are, but here in Colorado they hang out year round. In fact, on the 2006 Christmas Bird Count, in the middle of a blizzard—with the thermometer registering a whopping 6 degrees—we tallied over 200 American Robins in our sector alone… and those were just the ones we could see in white-out conditions.

What spring actually brings is singing robins. For some reason, they have no sense of  decent timing, and will start in at 4 am with their cheerful cheery-o, cheery-o. The last thing I feel at that hour is cheery.

american-robin-with-worm_blkforest_20100424_lah_3482Still, robins are generally welcome birds. We delight to see them patrolling our lawns, searching for worms. Even the most bird-unfriendly yard usually contains a few robins. Putting out a seed feeder won’t help—if they can’t find worms, robins will dine on berries and other fruits, but they typically ignore seeds (you might try offering raisins). The best way to attract them is to plant shrubs and trees that produce berries. Chokecherries, pyracantha, dogwood, and honeysuckle are some suggestions for the Front Range.

With their distinctive brick-red breast, robins are one of the first birds we learn to recognize; even a non-birder knows them. Oddly, once I started birding, identifying robins got harder. I was seeing, for the first time, all the other markings, and they got me confused. Now I do a quick scan… red breast, of course, but also black head, white eye-ring (like many other thrushes), black back, and that peculiar droopy-winged robin stance.

I was feeling pretty confident that I could identify a robin when I came across a flock of birds in my chokecherries that I didn’t recognize. They were the size and shape of robins, and they were acting like robins, but they didn’t have a red breast. Instead, it was speckled black on a buffy orange background. What in the world?

I was quite chagrined when I looked up my “new” yard birds, only to find that they were robins after all. Juvenile robins are more thrush-like in that they have a spotted chest. I just had a visiting flock of teenagers.

I had known all along that the American Robin was a different bird from the robin found in Europe. I didn’t realize how different they were until I saw some video footage of the European variety. Yes, it had the red in front, but it was a different hue, was a much smaller area, and the birds themselves had little in common beyond the beak, wings, and tail. Those early settlers must have been pretty homesick to name our thrush after the robins back home.

Lacking a lawn, my yard rarely has robins in it. I’d like to see more of them, so I looked into nest boxes. Turns out, robins won’t use a box, but they do appreciate a platform, perhaps tucked up under the eaves. I’m not much of a woodworker, but I think I can manage to build an L-shaped nesting support. I just won’t be attaching it outside our bedroom window. Those early birds need to learn some manners.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s