The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Robins are Back!
Ro Wauer, December 7, 2003, The Victoria Advocate, © 2003

Robins are Back! Robins are back? Such as announcement means something very different to folks living in the northern states than it does to those of us in South Texas. In the North it means that spring days have arrived, and the robins will remain until winter weather arrives. In South Texas, on the other hand, it means that the northern birds have begun to appear. And although robins probably will be with us throughout the winter months, they do not necessarily remain in a single location, but move about as available food supplies are depleted in one place and they search for another.

Although northern birds, especially those feeding nestlings, rely on earthworms that they find on lawns and in fields, wintering birds rely largely on fruit that they acquire from various shrubs and trees. And they gradually harvest these fruits from site to site. They may move into one area filled with fruiting yaupon and beautyberry, deplete those shrubs, and then may move elsewhere to where bayberry and sumac berries are more plentiful. Robins utilize a wide variety of berries; examples include bayberry, beautyberry, blackberry, greenbriar, hawthorn, various hollies, honeysuckle, juniper, mulberry, poison ivy, pokeberry, pyracantha, sumac, viburnum, and yaupon.

Some winters, robins are super abundant. But other years their numbers are minimum. Wintertime populations in South Texas depend on the available food supply and weather conditions further north; these hardy birds may remain far north of South Texas when berries remain available and mild temperatures prevail. But a good cold snap in the north can bring thousands of robins to our neighborhoods overnight. At times, a flock of robins, flying across the sky, can include many thousands. Christmas Bird Counts tally all birds found within a 15-mile diameter, and the highest number of robins ever was 1,620,000 individuals tallied on Burnet County, Texas, Christmas Count in 1981.

The robin, more probably known as American robin, is probably America's best known bird. It usually is one of the birds we learn as a child from books, toys, nursery rhymes, and even songs. Who has not heard the 1926 classic, "When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along?' And there are several books written on this single bird. The best, of course, is the one that I wrote, simply called "The American Robin," published by the University of Texas Press in 1999. Here are some interesting robin facts that I included: Average estimated life span is 1 year and 2 months. Maximum know age is 17 years. Length is 10 to 11 inches. Weight is 14.75 to 16.50 ounces. Adult average body temperature is 109.7 degrees F. Flight speed is 17 to 32 mph. Number of feather is about 2,900. Song description is "cheer-up, cheerily, cheer-up, cheer-up, cheerily."

The American robin's nesting cycle is 27 to 38 days, including 3 to 10 days for nest building, 13 to 15 days for incubation, and 13 to 15 days of nest life. Nest size is 6 to 7 inches across the top and 3 inches high, with an inner cup about 4 inches wide and 2.5 inches deep. Clutch size normally is 4, but ranging from 3 to 7. Food for an average brood is 3.2 pounds in total or 356 feedings daily.

The robin name was derived from the little red-breasted European robin, totally unrelated to our American robin. Early settlers to North America bestowed that cherished name on the red-breasted American thrush because of its friendly manner and close relationship with people, behavior that reminded them of the European robin back home.

But back to South Texas and our wintertime robins. They will remain in our general area, moving about in search of fresh berries, until early spring when the urge to return to their ancestral nesting grounds takes them northward. But they are here for now, so enjoy this cheery, red-breasted songbird.


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