Brooklyn Bird Watch: April 8
American Robin. Scientific Name: Turdus migratorius
Today, Brooklyn Bird Watch features a Heather Wolf photo of the American Robin, seen in Brooklyn Bridge Park. There is probably no better bird to represent the coming of Spring than the one the Cornell Lab of Ornithology calls “the quintessential early bird.”
The American Robin is one of our most popular songbirds, with its famously recognized orange or red-brick colored breast feathers and lyrical whistling, as well as its often photographed and illustrated struggles tugging an earthworm from the ground in early Spring. Robins are not only familiar birds seen in towns and cities, especially in city parks, they are also at home in the wilder areas like mountain forests and even the Alaskan wilderness. With the exception of the prominent “redbreast”, their body plumage is predominantly grey with a dark head and distinct white circles around the eyes.
Robins are abundant as they can produce three successful families in a year, yet only about 40 percent of the nests successfully produce young. Only 25 percent of those fledged young survive to November. From that point on, only about half of the robins alive in any year will make it to the next. Despite the fact that a few “lucky” robins can live to be 14 years old, the entire population turns over on average every six years.
Nevertheless, the American Robin’s population is large and appears to be increasing. According to the AZ Animals website, the Partners In Flight database estimates that 370 million Robins live in North America, The bird has an extremely expansive range and has been successful at adapting to human alterations of its habitat. Although the Robin is famous for its early arrival every spring, many people don’t know that they often spend winter near their breeding range and have not traveled very far during winter. Robins like to roost together, sometimes a roost can include up to a quarter-million birds during winter.
Another cultural reference associated with the Robin is the blue color of its eggs. We have “robin’s egg blue” crayons and paint while researchers believe, according to the National Wildlife Federation, the blue egg color protects the embryo from harmful sunlight. And scientists continue to test the hypothesis that the blue eggshells both shield the interior from UV radiation and prevent the egg from heating up.
And for our readers old enough to remember, we have the reference in the Joan Baez love song “Diamonds and Rust”, written about her affair with American songwriter Bob Dylan back in the turbulent 1960s, wherein she sings: “As I remember your eyes were bluer than Robin’s eggs.”
The male Robin arrives at the nesting grounds early and defends the territory by singing and sometimes by fighting (whatever it takes). The female is the primary nest builder although the male will help. The nest is a cup of grasses, twigs, and debris structured into a solid foundation of mud, lined with fine grasses and plant fibers. According to the Canadian Wildlife Federation, a Robin will make as many as 180 trips while building a nest. Both parents feed the young and both parents are very aggressive in defense of the nest. The male usually fledges the young while the female begins the second nesting attempt.
It is noted that the Robin feeds primarily on insects, berries and of course, earthworms. They feed their young mostly insects and earthworms. According to Audubon, in winter the Robin feeds mostly on fruit, which makes up about 60% of its diet year-round and they are also known to become intoxicated from eating the honeysuckle berries.
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