The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

March 15, 2014

Focus on Wildlife: The American Robin

By Bob Garrett
For The Daily Item

— Is it just my imagination or are there a lot more robins around this year, than in year’s past?  

For those of us who are desperately looking for any real sign that this record-breaking, frigid winter will soon end, I can’t think of any more welcome sight than a flock of robins in our backyards.  

The river is still iced over, the wobbly-legged, newly-born fawns aren’t here yet, that blasted groundhog spotted his shadow and retreated to his winter slumber — but the robins are around, so spring must be right around the corner.

American Robins are the quintessential “early birds.”  

Their migration pattern literally covers North America. In the fall, they will fly as far south as our warmest states such as Arizona, Florida and Texas and they’re frequent winter guests in Mexico.  

In late winter and early spring, they pass through the remainder of the “lower 48 states” on their way to Canada and as far as Alaska to their summer breeding grounds.  

Many robins are content to stay right here in our mostly temperate greater Central Susquehanna Valley for the whole summer.  Their finely-woven nests, complete with sky blue, speckled eggs are a delight to observe in our local trees.

Robins are non-game birds and their conservation status is listed as: “Least Concern.”  

Turdus migratorius is their scientific name. This is a combination of their genus and species names.  

The American Robin can be further classified as: Family-Turdidae, Order-Passeriformes, Class-Aves, Subphylum-Vertebrata, Phylum-Chordta and a member of the Animal Kingdom.

Possibly, the most popular of all the local songbirds, robins are known for their warm orange under parts and, when in flight, a flash of white plumage is easily visible on their lower bellies and under their tails.  

Often spotted in a tug-of-war with earthworms or hopping about in yards, open spaces, pastures and in the woods, robins are the largest of the North American thrushes.

Because they are so well-known, Robins make a good reference point for comparing the size and shape of other birds.  They’re sort of a “bigger than/smaller than” benchmark for the birding world.

Robins are hard workers and they can be authoritarian and quick to defend their territories.    

Frequently, they can be observed bounding across lawns, standing erect like a soldier, with their beak tilted skyward, surveying their environs as if to dare any intruder to “violate their space.”  

Evidence of this sentry-type attitude can be seen in several hilarious YouTube videos where unsuspecting dogs and even full-grown humans have been “attacked” by robins who were protecting the young from danger.

Robins use their keen sense of touch to weave together architecturally-accurate nests. The states of Connecticut, Michigan and Wisconsin have elevated the American Robin with the honor as their state bird.

Robins have an air speed that ranges from 20-36 miles per hour. When migrating, particularly in larger flocks, they tend to fly at the upper end of their air speeds.

It’s the Robin’s wonderful song that most people in our area first learn when trying imitate bird vocalizations.  

A robin’s syrinx or “song box” has complex muscles allowing them to sing rich, perfect pitch and multiple range songs that can carry over great distances.

And, “What about robins and eating all of those worms?” you might ask.  

Well, it turns out that their intestines are highly evolved so that they can get the most nutritional value out of their diet of worms.  

This same intestinal characteristic allows them to thrive on dried and frozen berries during extremely cold periods such as those that we’ve experienced the past few weeks.

Email comments to garrettoutdoors@gmail.com