When I was a girl, everyone said that robins were the first sign of spring. If that is so, then we don't have much winter any more, and given the amount of snow we have had since early December, I have had quite enough winter, thank you very much. Still, it seems that sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the robins vanish, and inevitably, I am too busy with end-of-semester tasks to notice their departure. Suddenly, they're just gone. Or are they?
Most years, sometime in February, there is a racket in a nearby tree. I look up and discover that it's full of robins. My first thought is usually that they've come back too soon, but I have learned that not all robins fly south for the winter. Nearly all the females do, but many males stay north to get a head start on choosing their spring breeding territories. They're willing to risk starvation to lay claim to the best spot for attracting the returning bird babes. (No comment on the male thought process.)
Of course, those of us with messy, or at least densely planted, yards help these little guys with their plans. It turns out that the diet of wintering robins turns from insects to fruit, so any of the shrubs with berries that hang on in the winter offer a smorgasbord to turdus (in this case, non-)migratorius. Hollies, crabapples, hawthorns, and an assortment of roadside weeds (and probably, even though they're dreadfully invasive, barberries and privets) provide enough carbs and calories to keep our little signs of spring alive through the northern winters. At the same time, the robins remind us that spring is indeed on its way. Sounds like a good deal to me.