What is more inspiring than seeing that first robin of the spring?
The American robin, Turdus migratorius, is a member of the thrush family. It is named after the European robin because of its reddish-orange breast, though the two species are not closely related, with the European robin belonging to the flycatcher family.
A migrator, the robins winter south of Canada from Florida to central Mexico and along the Pacific Coast. It is the state bird of Connecticut, Michigan and Wisconsin.
The American robin is active mostly during the day and assembles in large flocks at night. Its diet consists of invertebrates such as beetle grubs and caterpillars, fruits and berries. It is one of the earliest bird species to lay eggs, beginning to breed shortly after returning from its winter range. Its nest consists of long coarse grass, twigs, paper, and feathers, and is smeared with mud and often cushioned with grass or other soft materials. The robin is among the first birds to sing at dawn.
Predators include hawks, cats and larger snakes, but when feeding in flocks, it is able to be vigilant and watch other birds for reactions to predators. Brown-headed cowbirds lay eggs in robin nests, but robins usually reject the cowbird eggs.
Both sexes of the robins look alike, except the female tends to be duller than the male. However, some birds cannot be safely sexed on plumage alone. The juvenile is paler in color than the adult male and has dark spots on its breast, and whitish wing coverts. First-year birds are not easily distinguishable from adults, but they tend to be duller, and a small percentage retains a few junvenile wing coverts or other feathers.
The American robin has an extensive range, estimated at upwards of 6 million square miles, with a population of about 320 million individuals. It is listed as “least concern” on the endangered list. At one point, the bird was killed for its meat, but is now protected throughout its range in the United States by the Migratory Bird Act.
The American robin is a known carrier of West Nile virus. While crows and jays are often the first noticed deaths in an area with West Nile virus, the American robin is suspected to be a key host, and holds a larger responsibility for the transmission of the virus to humans. This is because while crows and jays die quickly from the virus, the American robin survives the virus longer, hence spreading it to more mosquitoes, which then transmit the virus to humans and other species.
The American robin is frequently seen running across lawns, picking up earthworms by sight, and its running and stopping behavior is a distinguishing characteristic. It hunts visually, not by hearing.
The robin also has a place in human culture. the Tlingit people of Northwestern North America held it to be a culture hero created by Raven to please the people with its song. One of the Houses of the Raven Tribe from the Nisga’a Nation holds the robin as a House Crest.
The robin is considered a symbol of spring. A well-known example is a poem by Emily Dickinson, I Dreaded That First Robin So. Among other 19th century poems about the first robin of spring is The First Robin, by Dr. William H. Drummond, which, according to the author’s wife, is based on a Québec superstition that whoever sees the first robin of spring will have good luck.
Although the comic book superhero Robin was inspired by an N. C. Wyeth illustration of Robin Hood, a later version had his mother nicknaming him Robin because he was born on the first day of spring. His red shirt suggests the bird’s red breast.
But, unlike Emily Dickinson’s poem, I don’t dread that first robin, I embrace it.
Roland’s trivia question of the week:
When Dale Earnhardt was killed on the final lap of NASCAR’s 2001 Daytona 500, who was crossing the finish line as the winner?
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