Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Robins -- a Harbinger of Winter?

Much like the shriveled orange that I have ignored for weeks in the bottom of the crisper, our winter robins seem to avoid the shriveled fruits on the crabapple and highbush cranberry bushes that we planted several years ago. But there is not much else for these fruit-eaters to eat in mid-February. So, every day a couple robins harvest a few more fruits from our plantings, but they don't fill up on them. I imagine the rest of the day they are searching high and low for any remaining winterberries, red cedar fruits, sumac, or other more palatable berries. They do seem to prefer fruits from these native plants, since they are the first to disappear in fall and early winter.

Just as Puxatawny Phil's winter forecasting seems to be a bit sketchy, perhaps robins are waning as our harbinger of spring. Many are remaining behind in winter rather than migrating south as their scientific name (Turdus migratorius) suggests is the proper behavior. Those that remain tend to move about in flocks looking for the next big bush full of fruits. Still, I often see them in ones and twos, clucking as they evaluate the food situation. Are they saying "tut, tut, tut, tut," or "yuck, yuck, yuck, yuck" given the bitter fruits on display.

Yet, I look forward to the first sweet spring song of the robin in our yard. The male, with his dark, almost black, head and puffed up red breast and the modest female looking about for the first, best nest site of the year. Maybe it will be under the deck or in the crabapple tree. Or maybe one in each as she raises two or more broods in our yard.

In the meantime, with six more weeks of winter (thanks to Phil) I think I'll go forage in my refrigerator for that shriveled orange.

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