The Nature Writers of Texas

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

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Clay-colored Robin is a Rare Visitor
by Ro Wauer

What a surprise to find a clay-colored robin in our yard! It was among a hundred or so American robins that we found drinking from our birdbaths. The American robins had arrived in a huge flock, like that had during the last several weeks. This flock was accompanied by a couple blue jays and four green jays, also like what we had observed in recent weeks. But also included in this flock for the first time was a clay-colored robin. In fact, the clay-colored robin was a brand new bird, representing our yard bird number 182.

Clay-colored robins are quite different from their American robin cousins. They lack the robin-red breast and the white eye-rings of American robins. They are olive-brown color above and tawny-buff (clay-color) below, with a yellow bill and finely streaked white throat. They are the same general size as the American robin.

This clay-colored robin is not the first ever for Victoria County, but it is considered an extremely rare visitor. It is even rare in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, although it is now considered a full-time resident there, and it has been found nesting in Hidalgo and Webb Counties. It actually is a Mexican bird that barely reaches the United States. So the few sightings north of the Valley truly are exceptional. According to Mark Lockwood and Brush Freeman’s “Handbook of Texas Birds” (2004), single records exist “from Huntsville, Walker County, Lake Jackson, Brazoria County, and Victoria.”

South of the border, clay-colored robins can be fairly common at choice locations as far south as Central America. They can occur in a variety of habitats, ranging from semiarid areas, riversides, broadleaf forests to about 8,000 feet elevations, plantations, and even in urban areas. In the Lower Rio Grande Valley, they seem to prefer well-wooded locations along the river. Clay-coloreds are rarely found in open areas, seldom found foraging on lawns like their cousins. They prefer “secluded thickets, where it quietly gathers earthworms, slugs, caterpillars, an occasional lizard, and other animal food; also wild figs, bananas, and other fruit,” according to Harry Oberholser’s “The Bird Life of Texas.”

Is the clay-colored robin one of the birds that seems to be affected by climate change? The answer is a probably yes. According to Timothy Brush, author of “Nesting Birds of a Tropical Frontier – The Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas,” the species was first recorded in Texas in 1940. The earliest nests were recorded in 1986 and 1988 at Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park. It is now a year-round but rare resident in the Valley, from Laredo to Brownsville. And more northern sightings are on the increase. They are welcome in my yard any time!

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