Robins in winter

>> Monday, January 28, 2008

I just learned something new today. Robins don’t always fly south for the winter!

There are two Robins in my backyard as I type this. Looking on the internet for information lead me to a site called, simply enough, American Robin.

Almost every Robin migrates south to escape the cold but some actually stay even as far north as Canada. They have been known to survive blinding blizzards, ice storms, and nights as cold as 30 below zero without human help. I am amazed! Whatever happened to looking to the Robin as the first sign of spring?

The website says that their body temperature under the feathers is about 104 degrees thanks to their thick down feathers that help hold body heat in. They produce body heat by shivering. And they get the energy to shiver from their food. This is where I know I can help. And you too.

Sometimes robins gather in huge flocks in winter. Doug Von Gausig found a "robin convention" of about 1000 robins near Sedona, Arizona, and recorded their chatter. Check out his website for a recording of Robin music.

I have never seen more than five or six Robins at one time. And never really together, they run all around the neighborhood looking for worms and fruit. To see a 1,000 of them at one time must really be something.

Yesterday, I saw about seventy or eighty Cedar Waxwings sitting in the fruit trees in my backyard. First time I ever saw this bird anywhere! Very exciting times here at Utah Valley Gardens!

They were all facing southwest because there was a very strong wind blowing from that direction. I figured they must have landed here to rest and to get out of the wind for awhile. They stayed for about 40 minutes.

Both of these birds like berries so I am going to follow the advice of this website and set out some:

# fruits: cut up apples, pears, oranges; blueberries, cranberries, and other berries; raisins and currants
# softened dog food kibble
# meal worms, earthworms, and red worms

Robins never eat bird seed--their stomach and intestines are not designed to digest them.

The first problem with robin feeders is that most robins have never heard of such a thing! It never occurs to them to explore their winter areas for human handouts. One of the easiest ways to help robins discover a winter feeder is to put it near a bird bath. They recognize those readily because they are all over mine in the summer.

The second problem with robin feeders is that the food can freeze. Mike Houle of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, figured out a good way to solve this problem. He filled a heated dog dish with peat moss, sawdust, and other soft matter. Then he put the worms in that. The heat from the dish keeps the bottom of the sawdust and peat moss unfrozen so the worms stay alive until a robin digs in!

I wish I could take credit for these beautiful photographs, but I took these off of the web.

Here is a list of the best varieties of berry shrubs for any berry eating bird.
# bittersweet
# bayberry
# snowberry
# sumac
# mountain ash
# crabapple
# hackberry
# hawthorn
# red cedar
# highbush cranberry
# chokecherry

Look around and see if maybe there any Robins hanging around your yard that you can help out. You might be surprised.


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