Saturday, March 30, 2013

Turdus migratorius (backyard Robins)

This is not a Robin
How the ordinary can be missed...

Winter is over and I’m delighted to report it’s warm enough to sleep with my window open! My island in the Pacific is temperate, not tropical, so spring warmth is always welcome. With the window open, the first and last thing I hear each day is singing birds.

This time of year, Robins are the ones singing. Around here we don’t have the dainty European ones (they were introduced about in the early 1900s, but didn’t take like the starlings and house sparrows did). Instead, we have a member of the thrush family, Turdus migratorius or American Robin. I’ve read that robins go through puberty once a year (article here) as hours of daylight increase. By this time of year they’re looking for a mate and the search is a noisy affair.

While I was out walking around a local bog, Red-wing Blackbirds were conducting a similar noisy quest as the robins. I heard the blackbirds long before seeing them, a feat my walking companion took to mean I’m an expert on birds. I’m not. Red-wing Blackbirds and Robins are the a few bird calls I recognize (Bald Eagles are another - majestic bird, ridiculous sound). We couldn’t see the birds at first, so we stopped and gazed out into the bog. Eventually, between the dried cattails, we saw flashes of fire-engine* red as the males jockeyed to catch the eye of the females.

I do purposely go out to see birds, but unintentionally I do it poorly. I have a bird identification book and binoculars, which I almost always forget to take with me. I have a check list for local birds that I’m filling out, yet I can’t tell the difference between different species of gulls. I’m a member of the local natural history society and they regularly do outings to watch birds, yet I’ve never gone with them.

There is always at least one Robin in my backyard, so I don’t have to go out of my way to see them. Unlike the Resplendent Quetzal, a bird I traipsed through the jungle in Costa Rica to see, the ubiquitous Robin is easy to ignore. They lack the iridescent green body and brilliant red breast of the quetzal. Even the flashy red wings of blackbirds eclipse a robin’s colouring. A Robin’s breast is the same shade of the liquid that seeps out of a bucket of nails left in the rain. Additionally, most Robin’s wings droop just a bit, giving them a goofy look which is augmented by the bird’s tendency to endlessly pursue their reflection in a window.

Soon, the Robins will sort out who to mate with and the songs will fade. Fragments of delicate blue egg shells will be discarded as the next generation of ordinary Robins are hatched. From my desk, I can watch a Robin bounce over the ground, stop and tug an earthworm out of the ground, a comical procedure. As the bird flies away with a worm in its beak, I’m always left wondering how does the Robin know the worm is there?

* actually, around here, most of the fire-engines are yellow.


  1. What is the bird in the picture?

    1. The photo is of a Clark's Nutcracker that came over to see what I was doing - I don't have any Robin photos.