Friday, April 18, 2008

Robin's Nests Reveal Secrets

The big northern robins have gone, leaving behind our smaller southern robin who sings to us every day now.

They are all over our lawn and large trees. I suspect they're looking for a nesting site. Although they build in other situations, the most common one around here is to saddle their nest on a large branch of a large tree.

The lawn is full of noisy activity. Males, I assume rivals for the attention of a female, chase after one another, even touching the one chased with his wings. They prance around with the pomposity of a pigeon. Then one flies away with the other following. Some of this activity could be between the sexes.

Without question, the best known and best loved bird in America is the red-breasted robin. Early settlers named this people-loving bird robin because it reminded them of the cheerful little red-breasted bird they left in England. The robin is a species of the thrush.

Why do robins migrate? Cold weather? To keep warm? No. Food is the answer. The bird can take the cold, by fluffing up its downy body feathers, it fashions a pair of thermal longjohns that keeps it snugly warm. What it can't take is the cold frozen ground that sends its favorite goodies, worms and insects, too far underground to be snatched from the frozen turf. Flying south for the winter is a bird's way of finding food in the cold months.

To our northern neighbors, the robin is the true bird of spring. The southern robin is with us here in the South all year, though they leave our lawns and go to nearby sunny swamps for a few weeks during the colder months. Here fruit and seed are plentiful and sustain them until the earth warms and worms start wiggling in the warm, moist ground.

By early April, if the weather has been warm and there have been rains to make mud (a robin's bricks), robin's nests are everywhere to be seen.

Summer days are enhanced by the robin and all his neighbors as they fill the dawn and dusk of each day with a medley of song for an hour or more.

Robins have been called the pottery makers of the bird world. Take a good look at an abandoned robin's nest. Pull off the lining of grass and straw. You'll find a rough, hard, earthen bowl. Using her breast as a mold, the female smooths the wet mud into shape. A robin's nest, because of the thick dried mud layer, is heavier than most birds' nests. Most of the nest building is done by the female.

After the nest is finished one blue-green egg is laid each day until the clutch numbers four. The female broods the eggs for 12-13 days. The spotted-breasted young leave the nest when about 14-15 days old.

Now that you know the secrets of the robin's nesting life, find a nest and keep records of these big events in the lives of a nest of robins. It's exciting and fun!

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