Harbingers of Spring?

It used to be true in the Northeast, and particularly here in New England, that when one saw a robin we’d say, “Oh a robin! Spring is here!”

I’m not sure when that changed, but for years now flocks of robins (technically, American robins or scientifically turdus migratorius–what an awful scientific name but note the “migratorius” part of the name!) have been wintering all over North America. So they are not really harbingers of spring in that sense anymore.

What you may not know is that the “robin” you see in the holly or on the crab apple this winter may not be the same robin you had nesting there (or elsewhere) in your yard last year. (Although the Cornell fact sheet, below, appears to dispute this, it is commonly thought that robins migrate short distances. So my “summer” robins in Connecticut might migrate to a relatively warmer climate of New Jersey or Maryland, say, while the robins of northern Maine might come down to my tropical paradise here in Connecticut! But once again, this may too be changing.)

My yard fledges prodigious numbers of robin young. Every year it seems to be more, despite the pair of red-tail hawks that occasionally feasts on a robin parent. Last year I counted 4 successful nests, the prior two years I had at least 3.

Despite my yard’s success, this fact sheet from Cornell says that the birds have a relatively short life span and that many fledglings do not live past their first fall. Unfortunately, that isn’t surprising. I would suspect that to be true for the young of many birds–indeed of many species!

This year, for the first time ever, I noticed robins at very high altitude in Colorado. While the “map” from Cornell indicates that they are resident in all parts of the United States all winter, I can honestly say I have never noticed them in Vail, Colorado (or Aspen, for that matter) in the winter. As a birder, of course I am focused on the birds I don’t normally see when I travel, but I immediately noticed the robins this trip. In fact, I usually notice the birds we have in common when I travel there in the winter–the mallard ducks for example.

And what was unusual was that there was a small flock of robins too. And I must say they were looking pretty miserable during the 3 intense snowstorms we had during my trip.

I counted as many as 8 robins at a time. And there were things for them to eat–rose hips, crab apples and lots of weed seeds. But still, this possible irruption at such a high altitude was amazing!

So while the robins certainly weren’t harbingers of spring in blowing snow and gale force winds, it was nevertheless a delight to see them. I’m not sure they’d say the same about me!

2 thoughts on “Harbingers of Spring?

  1. It’s interesting about the robins. I have not seen any here this winter but I remember them very early in March last year. I have heard other bloggers mentioning they have seen them too. Maybe their migratory habits are changing, Interesting post.

    • gardendaze January 27, 2014 / 6:41 am

      Interesting that they haven’t visited you this winter. Maybe they all felt like taking a ski vacation this year. I grew up on Long Beach Island and don’t recall them being there much at all, winter or summer but I suspect it was a matter of food sources. Not a lot of folks had plants with berries beyond a few hollies and an occasional bayberry.

      Thanks for reading and commenting


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 )

Google photo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.