The BioGeek Memoirs: American Robin

I’m sitting out in my back yard this late afternoon listening to the songs of robins. What do they sound like, you ask? Check out this link with American robins singing.

I have a lot of robins in the yard this year. I see them on the fence, running across the front yard, pulling up insects and worms from the lawn after I mow and water in the evenings, and splashing in the birdbath in my back yard.

I just love the robins! They are kind of intrepid, don’t you think? Lots of birds hop around, but no, not robins: robins are runners! I watch them run across the road almost every morning while I make my latte, and then across the lawn with a “you bunnies had better get out of my way” attitude. I mean, they are running chests out and leading with their beaks! What could be a better way to start the morning? Be like a robin, tackle each morning at a run! Be sure you get your latte first, however…

I almost never see robins over the winter, but they are kind of early arrivers in the spring. More than once, on a March snowy day, I have walked out to the car to find half a dozen male robins in the trees, heedless of any snow on the branches, carrying on and singing like crazy as they compete with the other birds. These first groups of robins are called waves, and they really are a first sign of spring.

Robins do migrate south in the winter and return to the north in the spring, but evidently it isn’t a strict north/south pattern. When I was back in the biology classroom the students and I would be on the watch for the first signs of spring in a number of categories, and the sign that I like the most was the first robin seen. The first robin of spring was a big deal for the students, and we were really on the watch starting about the first week of March each year. Students started carrying cameras with them hoping to grab a great photo.

Toy robin given to me by a student to use in the classroom. The first robin of spring!!

What? You can report the first robin seen somewhere? Yep. We made our reports to Journey North, which is an educational website where first sighting of spring in a number of categories are reported by students across the nation. Here’s the page for the American robins, and you can see the mapped data with animation here. As you might guess, the first robins are seen towards the south of the US, but then as the season progresses, they are seen further and further north. What I really love about this is that the data shows (and this is data from students all over the nation!) is that robin migration isn’t simple and clear because they tend to spread out to find food and don’t always move south. In the spring, the food becomes available as the sunlight, longer days, and earth warming moves north, and the robins follow the food.

Back to my robins in the yard this year. The fledglings left the nest this week and they have been hanging out in my yard with the bunnies and squirrels.

These little guys are hanging out hoping that one of their parents will come feed them.

I tried to snap a shot of the male feeding them, but there was so much baby-bird food-begging action and wing flapping I couldn’t get a good one before the parent flew off. Still, how cool is this? They are not all that afraid of me and seem to like hanging out with the occasional baby bunny in that side of the yard.

This summer’s baby bunny is doing great!

I have bunnies again this year! The cats are beside themselves!

I half-jokingly told a neighbor last night that I might let the backyard become a meadow. The grass is now taller than the baby bunnies and I am seeing more wildlife than usual. I’m torn, because I am making good progress weeding out my gardens this year and if I let the grass get too long, I will need some type of special mower if I change my mind down the road. What if the baby bunnies need more food? It is tempting…

Nope. As soon as I post this the mower is coming out. Run bunnies, and fledgling robins, you had better take to the wing.