According to traditional wisdom, they shouldn’t have been there at all. So much for traditional wisdom. They were there in droves.
Dozens of American robins visited my yard over the weekend. Their visits, unfortunately, were short-lived. First they gathered in the trees in the backyard. Then they dispersed, some going to the birdbath and others hopping along the garden or driveway.
It was nice to see the robins again, especially so many of them at once. Even in the summer when robins are commonplace, I never see that many together. Like many types of birds, robins form large flocks in the winter.
I was happy to see the robins in February, however I was not shocked or even the least bit surprised. Robins may be thought of as signs of spring, but each year many of them stay with us here in New England throughout the winter. In fact, some remain as far north as southern Canada. They are often hard to find in the winter, but they are around somewhere — and usually in large groups.
With their feathers and down, robins are able to withstand bitter cold temperatures and extreme weather conditions, just like our other “winter” birds such as chickadees and kinglets. Perhaps with the winters seemingly getting warmer, more robins than usual are sticking with us in the winter months. In fact, the robins in my yard the other week were treated to fresh earthworms. This winter has been so mild that a few industrious robins found the goodies by scraping away a few leaves. Usually, robins wander around in the winter looking for berries or crabapples.
The robins that visited over the weekend were following a regular route around the neighborhood, similar to the feeding habits of goldfinches in the summer. They approached from the north in the woods and worked their way south through my yard and, eventually, darted off into a neighbor’s yard — not to return until the next day. They followed that pattern each day I saw them. It was hard to get a good count of the birds, but there were as many as six or seven in the birdbath at a time, so there were plenty of robins.
Another bonus of seeing robins in the winter is that they are all adults. Last year’s brood members are not juveniles anymore. They grow up fast, don’t they?
Although I haven’t been lucky enough to see them in my yard yet, I’ve also seen eastern bluebirds this winter. Bluebirds are a close cousin of the robin and also not widely thought of as a “winter” bird in New England.
Not that the yard hasn’t seen its share of action over the past few weeks. There have been slow moments, but also moments of frenetic activity with nuthatches, titmice, chickadees, house finches, cardinals, blue jays, white-throated sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, downy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers and starlings all visiting that same time. Oh, did I mention mourning doves? Mourning doves have taken up residence at my address: front yard, backyard, side yard. There’s always mourning doves.
With all those birds visiting, though, the cheerful robins were the highlight of last weekend.
Chris Bosak is a nature columnist for The Hour newspaper in Norwalk, Conn., and the Keene Sentinel in Keene, N.H. His column, For the Birds, has appeared each week for more than 10 years. He is also a nature photographer. A collection of his columns and photos may be found at www.birdsofnewengland.com