By Jim Poling Sr.
Now you see them, now you don’t.
The robins were everywhere until recently. Listening and pecking for worms beside the house. Flitting branch to branch back in the woods as they searched for any remaining mountain ash or other berries.
Hardly a day would pass without seeing several or more. Now there is none to be found.
Some say the disappearance of the robins foretells an early winter. When they sense snow and cold moving in, they move out. I’m not sure that is totally accurate.
Although robins are considered migratory birds I think of them as nomads. They don’t follow the consistent north-in-spring, south-in-autumn paths of most birds. They wander off track stopping wherever they find food.
That’s why I was seeing so many of them earlier this month. Rains and morning dew brought out the worms, and there were still some berries left on bushes. Colder temperatures and some frost have changed that, so the robins have moved on to find more profitable locations.
Many people see robins as delicate, pretty little birds that travel south early to avoid dying in the cold. However, they are tough birds who are being seen more often in northern regions during winter.
Their outer feathers block wind and snow, while softer downy inside feathers provide insulation that helps them maintain their body temperature, which is 104 Fahrenheit.
Project FeederWatch, a research project gathering data on winter bird populations, has reported that more robins are hanging around later in northern regions.
It said that during the 2015-16 winter, robins visited 11 per cent of winter backyard feeders in northern parts of Canada and in Alaska. That compared with only six per cent of winter visitations in 1989-90.
One of the reasons could be climate change, and the fact that Canadian winter temperatures have been getting milder over recent decades. Urban landscaping might be another reason why more robins are being seen later in the year.
Fruit trees and berry-producing shrubs and bushes have become popular with people landscaping their town and city homes. Robins are mainly fruit eaters in winter, so if there is more of it to be found in built-up areas, they will be there.
Robins originally were a forest species but they have adapted well to a changing landscape, which has seen forests shrinking and urban areas expanding.
Many of us see robins as fairly solitary birds, hopping about alone, or sometimes with a mate. But serious bird watchers say that they tend to flock during the fall months. In southern areas they have been seen in flocks of hundreds.
Flocking gives robins more eyes and ears to find food and some extra warmth if they crowd together in trees.
Being in a crowd also offers some protection from predators. Although it is hard to imagine anything wanted to hurt these friendly songbirds, they have enemies, including crows, jays, hawks and a variety of other aggressive birds.
Robins don’t seem to fear humans, although they are cautious and will attack if someone approaches their nest, especially if it contains babies. They have been known to come close to humans exposing worms when they dig in a garden or water a lawn.
They do pose an indirect threat to humans because they are carriers of West Nile virus.
Other West Nile carriers such as crows and jays die quickly from the virus, but robins survive it longer, therefore passing it along to more mosquitoes, which can infect humans.
The robin also is an impostor, although not through its own fault. It is named the American Robin, but in fact is not a robin at all. It is a thrush and has no relation to the European Robin.
Early American settlers who first encountered the bird called it a robin because of its reddish breast, which was similar to the European Robin commonly called Robin Red Breast in England. Other than that, there is little resemblance to the European bird, which is a member of the flycatcher family.
If climate change does bring more milder winters we may see more robins during the winter months. That’s a good thing because there are few birds that provide as much pleasure with their vast repertoires of song.