Feeder Census and Fruit-Full Robins

Time moves differently when you are holding binoculars. Or maybe it’s when you are taking a bird census. All I know is that my total of 4 hours watching my feeder (broken up into 4 one-hour sessions) went quickly and amounted to a heartening experience of curiosity and delight.

How welcome and rare, in this day and age, to sit still and be entertained by something that doesn’t plug in or need charging! You can learn a lot by simply watching the birds in the yard, and be completely entertained, too. Some take turns, others take over. Some favor picking through the seeds that fall, others relish the suet cake or commit to a particular feeder hole. There are those who “dine in,” chowing down right on the perch, and those who “take out,” carting their seeds to an undisclosed location. Dimming sunlight looks especially lovely when reflected off of a mourning dove perched nearby.

I started to notice things like beak shape and gorgeous tail feather design and who likes to fly to what branch. Also, that you have to pay close attention to tell sparrows apart! The term “little brown job”  was invented for a reason!

Later on I flipped through the Sibley field guide Tom bought me, poring over details to make sure my identifications were on track. The whole exercise was a great reminder of how much there is to notice, how much there is going in nature that can just (literally) go right over our heads. Here’s a snapshot of my count from one of the sessions:

feederWatchSnip030616

This was the second year I committed to report my feeder eaters to Project FeederWatch, and I still have time to do a few more counts before the April 8 cutoff. I am hoping the next count will boast some robins. I swear I saw one fly by me on Route 154, but I’ve seen nary a one in the yard.

In fact, I felt a bit dumb when I had to admit that I had no idea where robins go during the winter. I mean, the consensus seems to be that they are a major sign of spring, but I was pretty sure that they didn’t fly south with the geese. Well, apparently I am not the only one who didn’t realize that robins often remain nearby when it gets cold, simply changing their habits. According to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology , in the fall and winter robins roost in trees and eat fruit, so we are much less like likely to see them. I would however notice if I saw a QUARTER MILLION birds in a roost! Apparently this kind of robinpalooza is a documented occurrence. Here’s some audio of a mere 1000 robins or so chattering in Arizona.

I don’t look at scrappy, scraggly trees tangled in the brush the same way anymore. I look for shriveled apples that have hung on, wondering if they will sustain a robin until he finds the ground soft enough for worms again.

Robin’s Egg Blue, Tiffany and Co., and a Worm’s Perspective

We have a row of tall pines flanking the street, needles so dense that only rarely have I spotted a nest. But I call up into them with congratulations when I find an egg shell on the ground below, assuming that somewhere high up a bird family is celebrating a new life. I suppose I should make daily visits after I find one shell and see who else may have pecked their way into the world—robin moms make one egg per day, so it takes a while for an entire clutch to form.

We’ve had a proliferation of fat and happy-looking robins—Connecticut’s state bird—this year, and they’re technically past the tail end of the breeding season, at least according to what humans have to say about it. I picked up fresh remnants of yet another shell just yesterday, and I’ve been doing some research on that eye-catching and, for me, always heartening, robin’s egg blue. Tiffany and Company, the renowned jeweler, has actually registered the color as its signature.  Apparently the color matters to the robins, too, with brighter hues serving as a mark of good health. Research has shown that the robin father is more attentive to hatchlings that come from brighter blue eggs, feeding them twice as much as babies coming from duller shades.

This page has video footage of a parent (the males and females are nearly identical) feeding the babies, and at the end it looks like s/he pulls something out of the nest. It looked like a flower to me, but I learned that it was a diaper of sorts  the babies conveniently excrete a sack of waste that can easily be carted away—how much easier it would be if human babies picked up that evolutionary trick!

Warning: small tangent ahead, but it comes back to robins. Sometimes I fall in love with the UK as I’m Googling around. Infatuation, perhaps, from one who’s never been there and imagines life on the island of Britain as somehow much more quaint and well thought out. (And maybe it’s also my ancestry calling me, heavy on the Anglo-Saxon with some smattering of other tribes mixed in.) Anyway, here’s another good idea from the Brits: UK is host to U3A, the University of the Third Age, meant to encourage an active life of discovery among the retired and semi-retired, rich with learning and sharing knowledge. This is a whole movement, a whole fantastic concept that makes me want to begin retirement early, or get special dispensation to join even though I am a working mother that lives across the pond! But it also gives me pause—why wait until retirement? There’s so much that can be discovered right now, and it’s literally right outside the door.

Back to robins – my side trip to the UK led me to an amusing poem about the birds in a U3A newsletter. Here’s just a snippet of the poem by Louise Henly, carrying a reminder that the eye of the beholder, like our beloved robin’s egg blue, will never cease to matter:

 All heaven is set in a rage
When a robin’s confined in a cage
That seems an uncontroversial quote,
But it’s not how the worm would cast her vote.