Posts Tagged ‘American Robin’


My sister sent me this great photograph of a robin perched on top of a garden ornament. How cute is that?

Robins seem to have an affinity for head-top perches. Here’s a robin enjoying the view from the top of ‘Bernadette’ in my own garden.


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Bird on a Wire

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Following hard on the heels (or should that be wings?) of the Red-winged Blackbirds, the American Robins arrived on March 13th. I spotted my first red-breast as I was leaving on an excursion to town to pick up a few groceries. By the time I got back, I’d chalked up another dozen sightings! The morning chorus becomes more joyous every day as new voices join in.

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Northern Cardinal

This beautiful cardinal can be heard every morning now, singing out his song from a treetop perch. He’s been here all winter, but he has just started giving full voice to his chorus of “Birdie, Birdie, Birdie! Whit, whit, whit!” in the last week or so. What female could resist him?

It’s hard to believe that it was only last weekend that I spotted the first Red-winged Blackbird. Now they are everywhere, chucking and oak-a-leeing in the branches and foraging beneath the bird feeders. Over the course of the week, other migrants have joined them. There are quite a number of Common Grackles joining their numbers. Look at the beautiful iridescent colours on this fellow, helping himself to a seed at the feeder.


Common Grackle

As I was walking past a pine tree, I noticed a Brown-headed Cowbird keeping a cautious eye on me. There have been a few American Robins around for a few weeks, but now they are back in plentiful numbers. And this morning, I spotted a pair of Hooded Mergansers on the river. They skillfully avoided my attempts to capture them with my camera, taking off for a site farther upstream.

The birds are early, ready to put The Winter That Wasn’t behind them and move on to spring. This winter was the 3rd warmest on record here. Three of the warmest winters ever have been recorded in the last six years. What was additionally notable about this winter was the lack of precipitation. It was also the second driest winter on record.

How are these shifts in winter weather patterns affecting migrating birds?


Brown-headed Cowbird

A special report titled The Winter that Wasn’t: Bird Migration aired on CBC’s morning show The Current on March 7th. Biologist Allen Hurlbert from the University of North Carolina, B.C. biologist Dick Cannings and eBird editor Mike Burrell from Bancroft all addressed this question.

They note that the timing of migration is vitally important to the success of the upcoming breeding season. If a bird arrives back too early, he may encounter the bad weather and lack of food he flew south to avoid. If he arrives back too late, he may fail to find a good breeding territory and prospective mate.

One of the most important elements about timing is hitting the height of the insect season just right. Birds need a big supply of bugs to feed their demanding young. Without them, chicks may starve. If a warm spell disrupts normal insect patterns, causing bug populations to peak earlier, parent birds may not be able to adequately supply their young with food if they have started nesting according to their normal schedule.

We often have a poor appreciation of just how interconnected the natural world is. Failure or changes to one sector can have a ripple effect right through an ecosystem. Some bird species, such as Red-eyed Vireos seem to be adapting to changing weather patterns. Other species, such as Barn Swallows have been devastated. While Barn Swallows were once common birds, their numbers have plummeted by 75% over the last few decades.

You can learn more by listening to the full broadcast linked here.


American Robin

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On Monday evening, when I popped out to get a log for the fire, I thought I heard a robin churr. However, a quick look around didn’t reveal any robins. On Tuesday morning, I heard the call again and set out to find the source. Sure enough, there he was, high up in a tree. The first robin of spring! He chose a beautiful, blue-skied, sunny day for his first appearance. Another first to check off as the new season slowly takes hold.


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Carolus Linnaeus, that is. Strictly speaking, that should be Happy Belated Birthday, as his birthdate is May 23, 1707. The 300th anniversary of his birth was celebrated in 2007. What an amazing man. Darwin gets lots of credit for the whole Origin of Species thing, even though Alfred Russel Wallace had come to similar conclusions contemporaneously. I think I prefer Linnaeus as a hero. He brought order to the study of natural science.

Taxonomy, or systematics, is the science of classifying organisms. The system that was developed by the great Swedish botanist Linnaeus is still used today. It is a hierarchical system that ranks every organism, both plant and animal and even the neither here nor theres, in a series of categories. You may be familiar with King Phillip Comes Over For Good Soup, or some similar mnemonic. The phrase reminds schoolchildren and more than a few adults of the hierarchy: Kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species.

Somehow, I missed this in school and came to it late in life when I developed an interest in birds. Birds belong to the kingdom Animalia; the phylum Chordata (animals with vertebrae, or a backbone); and class Aves (this class refers exclusively to birds). There are about 2 dozen orders of birds. Names of orders end in “iformes”. The largest order is Passeriformes, the perching birds, which include more than half of the world’s approximately 10,000 species. Other orders are referred to as non-passerines. Examples of other orders are Piciformes (woodpeckers); Columbiformes (pigeons and doves); and Anseriformes (ducks and geese).

Each order is divided into families. There are many families in Passeriformes. Examples are Corvidae (crows and jays) and Turdidae (thrushes). Bird guides are generally set up in a standard layout of orders and families. The layout reflects the evolutionary age of the orders and species. The orders thought to have evolved first are at the beginning of guides. The more recently-evolved birds, the passerines, are presented after all the other orders.

Each family is divided into genera, which include very similar species. Each species has a latinized name made up of the genus combined with a specific name to distinguish it from other members of its genus. A shared genus name indicates that two species are closely related. Scientific names are traditionally italicized. Because the Linnean system features a two-part scientific name it is commonly referred to as binomial nomenclature. Here is how the American Robin (Turdus migratorius), above, photographed recently in my garden, would be classified:

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Turdidae
Genus: Turdus
Species: migratorius

The Canada geese (Branta canadensis) that I photographed last winter would be classified as follows:

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Anseriformes
Family: Anatidae
Genus: Branta
Species: canadensis

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Spring Welcome

As I returned from an extended visit to the GTA (Toronto area) this weekend, I saw my first robins of the season on a lawn just down the road from Willow House and stopped to snap a picture. It was just as well I did, because the robins here haven’t been so co-operative. Although I have heard them singing, the only sighting I’ve so far enjoyed was of the individual pictured below, who felt no need to have his picture taken, and hurried off while I was still distant.

As soon as I opened the car door, my ears were filled with the calls of red-winged blackbirds. How wonderful! After waiting all winter to hear them, their voices are most welcome. Of course, I knew they had arrived because Birdgirl kindly posted an entry about them while I was gone. There are plenty of them taking advantage of the seed at the birdfeeder. They have been joined by a few grackles.

The blackbirds are most conspicuous in the early part of the day and in the late afternoon. All day, though, Canada Geese can be heard, high above, streaming by in flocks, sometimes half a dozen at a time, sometimes a hundred, heading north. It still seems like a novelty to think of Canada geese as wild birds. In urban areas, they are present all winter in parks, but here, their return marks the beginning of the influx of migratory birds. It’s very exciting to see them passing overhead in large numbers, calling continuously to each other. Down the road, many geese stop to rest in a flooded section of field. Welcome back!

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Once the trees drop their leaves, the nurseries that cradled the year’s bounty of baby birds are suddenly revealed. It’s amazing how well-concealed nests are during the summer. Of course, if you pay close attention to the actions of birds, and know where to look, it is possible to find their nests while they are active. However, I have been content to let the birds live their lives in my yard without my scrutinizing of their comings and goings to closely. Consequently, I have daily walked right past nests without knowing they were present until the fall.


Many American Robins (Turdus migratorius) build their nests close to our house in trees and hedges bordering the lawn and driveway. Robin nests are among the easiest nests to identify in the fall. Robins construct very sturdy nests, weaving grasses into a cup and plastering the walls with mud. They are the only builders of cup-shaped nest to employ mud in this fashion, so dried-mud is a pretty sure sign that you are looking at a robin’s nest. The nest pictured at the top of the post was built in a hawthorn tree. The nests above and below are further examples of robin architecture.


The robin who built the nest below included some twine in the construction.


This nest, located in a Amur Maple tree, features a strip of torn plastic. The mud isn’t conspicuous, but I got out the ladder and climbed up to take a closer look. Sure enough, the mud rim can readily be observed. For more on robin nests, see Robin’s Egg Blues.



Another readily-identifiable nest to be found in the bare tree branches is that of the Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula). Orioles weave a hanging basket that is typically secured at the rim or edges to a drooping branch. It is woven with various plant fibres and lined with fine grass, hair or plant down. The nests often hang in branches over roads, an adaptation, perhaps, of an instinct to build the nest over flowing water. The nests quickly become weather-worn once the trees lose their leaves.


Many nests are difficult to identify once their occupants have departed. Here is a nest with a scenic situation over water. It may have been built by an Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus). Kingbirds like to nest on a horizontal tree limb, about halfway between the tree trunk and its canopy. About 25 % of the time, the nest is located over water. Kingbirds build a bulky, untidy nest using weed stems, grass, plant down and rootlets.


The nest below is likely that of an American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis). Goldfinches prefer to build their tightly-woven nest in a branch fork. Caterpillar webbing and spider silk is often used to bind the outer rim of the nest.



The builder of this large nest, over a foot across and high up in a larch tree, remains a mystery.


Not all the nest-builders were birds. This nest, possible belonging to Bald-faced Hornets (Dolichovespula maculata), has already started to disintegrate.


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It’s baby bird season. Throughout the nature blogosphere, posts on baby birds are popping up. Here’s a great post over at The Marvelous in Nature about chickadee fledglings. And how about these cuties? Baby field sparrows. Over at A Passion for Nature, Winterwoman is showing off little house wrens. Not being as intrepid a birder as Seabrooke or Jennifer, I let the baby bird find me. When I walked into the kitchen, there was a young robin sitting on the windowsill. It was probably newly out of the nest, and still being cared for by its parents. My windowsill wasn’t the best place for it to be sitting. I was concerned about a parent running into the window. However, I did enjoy getting a good look at the youngster. I love the speckled breasts of baby robins. It’s when the species looks its most thrush-like, I think. I wasn’t the only one who found the baby of interest. Moey, left, and Tonka were quick to notice the new arrival. I shooed them away from the window, and when I came back a little later, the little robin was gone. I hope he found a better spot to perch.

Speaking of baby birds, here’s the latest on the boreal forest bird nursery. The Save Our Boreal Birds petition, with 60,000 signatures, was presented to the federal government on June 15th by MP Linda Duncan. May it help to preserve a future for many more baby birds.


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I’ve been in horse stables where Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) were nesting above the horses’ heads, barely out of arms-reach of people coming and going and everyone got on fine. The several pairs of swallows nesting in the barn here, however, are upset whenever I enter the barn, even though they are far overhead on the roof rafters. They seem to feel they should have the barn to themselves and set up a cacophony of distressed chittering when I arrive.

tree swallows

Meanwhile, just down the field the Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) are carrying nesting materials to their box.


When I was walking past this small pine tree, putting hay out for the horses’ breakfast, I noticed a dark shape near the trunk of the tree. A closer look revealed this female American Robin (Turdus migratorius) sitting on her nest.


Robins are numerous around here. When I was walking along the river, I noticed another mother robin, incubating her eggs.


Robins usually sit tight. That is, even when disturbed by a person close at hand, they stick to their nest and stay still. One season when Birdgirl was working on a nest monitoring study, she came across one robin who wouldn’t budge until she was actually putting her fingers in the nest to check for eggs. Now that’s a dedicated mom. In contrast to robins, Common Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) are quite easily disturbed. When I walked past a small spruce tree, a grackle made a hasty exit and I knew to look for a nest. Here it is!


The mother retreated to the top of a nearby tree and complained loudly about my presence from the safety of her high perch. With both robins and grackles, the female incubates the eggs, keeping the eggs warm with her body. In order to warm the eggs efficiently, the female develops a brood patch, an area of skin on the belly that loses its feathers toward the end of the egg-laying period. Most birds shed the feathers automatically, though geese and ducks pluck the feathers and add the to the nest. The brood patch also develops extra blood vessels to bring hot blood close to the surface of the skin. When birds return to the nest after a break to resume incubating, they make settling-in movements while they position the brood patch so it is in contact with the eggs. In species where the male also incubates, males may also develop a brood patch. The feathers gradually grow back in after brooding is done.


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