It snowed last night. Looking out the window I estimated that about two inches of the heavy white stuff blanketed the lawn and driveway. As I sat down to write my weekly blog my wife spotted a robin hanging out on the dry surface just outside the front door. I watched this bird for some time and decided to make it the subject of my computer screen words.
Robins are not a sign of spring – that is unless you view rabbits as a sign of spring. You will see Robins and rabbits in the spring but you can also see them on January 1. Not every robin sticks around – many migrate south- but a significant percentage of them remain. If you keep your eyes closed from October until the end of March, you can still consider Robins as sure signs of vernal arrival. The truth remains, however, is that these birds are actually well-adapted to cold-weather life (so are rabbits, but I’m not going to talk about them anymore)
Winter robins are different than the Spring/Summer robins. Winter season birds change their behavior. They become social, group together into sizable flocks, and concentrate on eating dried berries and fruits. Their plumage becomes mottled and that famous “red” breast pales to the color of tomato soup with a heavy dose of milk in it.
As the end of the season approaches the winter robins start to transform into spring robins. They lose the white mottling on their feathers and their colors become intense. The males especially look sharp as their head becomes rich black and their breast returns to its original tomato soup tone. The flocks break up and they return to their solitary ways. And, oddly enough, they begin to hate snow. They will do everything possible to avoid walking in it. Our front porch bird was well on the way to becoming a spring bird.
This bird was garbed in pure male colors and trying it’s best to perch in places that were devoid of snow such as under the car and the protected spot under the porch overhang. Alternating between the porch and the crab apple opposite the living room window he was far from inactive or miserable. At the crab apple he selectively plucked well dried fruits and downed them whole- just as he would on the coldest of December days. At the porchside he concentrated his efforts on a small pile of bark and dead leaves next to the planter barrel next to the porch.
As I watched, only inches from the sight, the robin dismantled the pile. While chickens and White-throated Sparrows will scratch with their feet and blackbirds will “gape” (open their bills) to pry through leaves, Robins reach and toss aside. Every few tosses, he would stop to stare and then pluck at a newly uncovered insect.
Given the gift of detail afforded by close examination, I could clearly see a record of this food hunt layered upon the bird’s bright yellow bill. A line of fruit debris marked the area high up on the beak and a layer of soil covered the tip. Snowflakes speckled the black head feathers and complemented the white eye ring. I could even see the reflection of the very window that I was shooting pictures through in his eyes.
On this morning I was forced to go eye to eye with one of the most common birds in North America. This very same bird will be patrolling the green lawn in just a few more days when the calendar spring actually arrives. It will become another common sight of the variety that will not even elicit a further glance. Thanks to my wife and my window I stared a winter robin in the eyes and saw the face of spring.