Wisconsin's Official State Bird
When the red, red robin comes bob-bob-bobin'along,
there'll be no more sobbing when he starts throbbing
his old sweet song."
-Frank Howard 1883
Even when this old song was written to celebrate
the return of the robins the bird was considered the true harbinger
of spring and a welcome sight after the long, dark days of winter.
Robins do seem to lift the spirits of us
winter-weary northerners with their familiar "cheer-up, cheer,
cheer, cheer-up" call we hear in our backyard in spring. Only male
robins sing during the breeding season to attract and court a
females. They also use this call to warn other male robins to stay
out of the territory they've chosen to nest in. Chances are, no
matter where you live, you probably get a robin or two right outside
your window singing away day after day in early spring. Since robins
like to sing before sunrise and continue on all day until after
sunset, their old sweet song can turn into "noise" pretty quickly,
especially if you like to sleep late on occasion.
While male robins are busy singing, female robins
begin the real work of selecting a site to build a nest usually in
the fork in a tree but occasionally on a lamp fixture or the window
sill of your house. Female robins do all the nest building as well
using grass, mud, string, hair and whatever else is available. She
also does all the incubating once her eggs are laid and stays on the
nest night and day. In his defense, the male robin does his share of
work as well having to feed both the incubating female and the young
chicks. No doubt you've watched robins hopping over your lawn in
search of earthworms. It was once thought that robins could hear the
worms in the ground because of their habit of cocking their head
toward the earth like they were listening for them. In reality,
robins can actually "see" earthworms near the surface before they
grab them and pull them out.
Although born featherless, blind and helpless,
baby robins grow at tremendous rates increasing their weight by one
thousand percent in their first ten days of life. Once feathered,
robin chicks are one of nature's cutest youngsters and have
voracious appetites. Robin nestlings demand to be fed every 5 to 10
minutes--a scenario familiar to any human parents that ever had
teenagers in the house. Even after they have left their nest, young
robins are fed for several weeks on the ground by the parents. This
is time of year that well-intentioned people pick up the young
robins thinking they have been abandoned or fell from their nests.
Some young fledging robins do no doubt fall victim to the
neighborhood cat, but most will survive and should be left alone for
the parents to take care of.
Every year, robin sightings are reported in the
middle of winter and many of us see this as an omen of an early
spring. In reality, these are just our "winter robins" or the normal
two percent of the robins that for what ever reason decided not to
migrate south for the winter. Most robins do migrate to warmer
climates however and don’t return to Wisconsin until March or April
from their wintering grounds along the gulf coast of Texas, Florida
or even as far away as Mexico.
Robins were named by early European settlers
because the birds reminded them of the
European robin of their homelands.
As it turns out, however, the American robin is
not even related to its European counterpart and is really a member
of the thrush family instead. Robins were once considered an
important food source for early pioneers and Indians that used to
hunt them. As late as the 1840's, market hunters were still shooting
millions of robins for shipment to city marketplaces. Even John
James Audubon, a noted naturalist, wrote of the delicacy of roast
robin which he described as tasting like woodcock.
Today, the robin is protected by Federal and State
laws and is not only the official state bird for Wisconsin but the
states of Connecticut and Michigan as well. The robin has rebounded
so well from the days of market hunting that it is now probably the
best known and most numerous of all our native birds.
In addition to their natural enemies such as birds
of prey, raccoons, and other predators, robins have created new
hazards for themselves. Their habit of nipping off set plants and
gorging themselves on cherries and strawberries have not exactly
made them a favorite of gardeners or people who park their cars
under their perching trees. Despite this, robins continue to be
welcomed into our backyards each spring and will no doubt be
"bob-bob-bobbin along" in search of the perfect earthworm for many
years to come.
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