Latest For the Birds column: Robins and spring

Photo by Chris Bosak An American Robin perches on a rock at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., in Jan. 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An American Robin perches on a rock at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., in Jan. 2015.

Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers.

Nor’easters and pending snowfalls aside, spring is knocking on the door.

The robins are back. That has to mean spring, right? Aren’t robins the traditional harbinger of spring?

Well, yes and no. Yes, they are the traditional harbinger of spring by manner of conventional wisdom, but, no, because some robins have remained in New England all winter.

A number of robins spend their winters in New England, scouring the woods and other habitats for berries and even insect larvae among the trees. Because of that, many people scoff at the notion that robins are a harbinger of spring.

I recall a Great Backyard Bird Count I was doing several years ago when I came across about 50 robins in the woods. A few dozen cedar waxwings made it a mixed flock. The count is held annually in mid-February. That robin sighting didn’t mean spring had arrived — although many people would welcome spring in mid-February — it merely meant I was lucky enough to find them in the winter.

I’ve also seen robins in my yard during winter, but those sightings are short-lived. If they visit during the winter, they find what they can to eat and move on to the next place

So, technically speaking, robins are not a true harbinger of spring.

But, feel free to hold tight to the notion that they are a sign of warmer times.

Unless you’ve spent time in the woods looking for them in the winter, spring robins are the first ones you’ve seen since last fall. Also, these spring robins are fatter, more colorful, more lively, and more loquacious than any robins we’d see in the winter. I only wish they would be loquacious later in the day. The robins in my neighborhood start at about 5:30 a.m. once spring really rolls around. So, if it lifts your spirits and makes you feel better about the season ahead, then by all means say, yes, robins are a harbinger of spring.

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