Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. March 19, 1899. [Habits of the Robin.] Omaha Sunday World-Herald 34(170): 21.

Habits of the Robin (1899)

The robin seems a bit dilatory about journeying northward this spring, but this ought to occasion little wonder, considering the unusual rigidity of the winter from which we are just emerging. Last spring the robins were here by the first of March and they lingered unusually late in the fall. During the latter part of December, and after we had already had much snow and severe weather. I was quail shooting out at Fred Schroeder's, west of Millard, and encountered a robin in the cottonwood grove west of Fred's house. But he was chirping querulously and was shy and uneasy and I think took up his long pilgrimage southward that very day, for when he left the top of the tall, naked cottonwood where I had discovered him, he mounted high in the wintry sky and went off in that direction at a clip that soon hid him from my sight.

Fully two weeks ago Ed Stout, more familiarly known as Reuben among the officials about the city buildings, told me that he had seen a pair of robins while driving in from Waterloo the day before, but as Major Stout is the same gentleman who claims to have caught eleven wild geese late one dark November evening years ago by the legs as they flew over the Elkhorn bridge, out near his native village, I discount his ornithological assertions largely.

But Merula Migratoria, as we scientific savants style the robin. So familiar a bird may seem a trite subject to some, yet there is such a vast amount of ignorance rife with regard to this most common visitor to our gardens, woods and fields, that I think a few facts will not prove unwelcome to many. Ask almost any of your erudite friends how many broods does the robin raise every year? How many eggs does it lay and what is their color? How far north does it sometimes occur in winter, and I am not at all afraid that you will find an excuse for this article. And then I love to write about the birds, the fauna and the flora of this rare and peculiar state of ours, and already I have told you what I know about the kiyote in contemplation for the future the discussion of many other familiar animals and birds.

When the Pilgrim Fathers landed at Plymouth Rock, it is quite certain they must have soon noticed a red-breasted saucy bird that, although as big and two or three times as heavy as the robin redbreast of the land they had emigrated from, still served to remind them of the laws and homesteads across the deep blue sea. Thus the American migratoria thrush became a robin, just as the ruffed grouse became a pheasant, and the hare a rabbit. I apprehend the old Puritans were more conspicuous for bigotry than for ornithological knowledge.

The robin is both a bold and timid bird, very hardy, and I have met it in latitude 44 degrees, where 40 degrees Fahrenheit is occasionally registered, up in the little spring-fed valley north of Lake Washington, Minnesota, as late as December 25. What the bird subsists upon at such a date I cannot say, as I was not sufficiently scientific to kill and dissect it to find out. In this latitude, 41 degrees, he is often to be seen throughout the entire winter, especially during such mild ones as we have enjoyed since way back in 1888. The robin, however, can take many liberties with his digestion and feed on a great variety of food, although when he can get it undoubtedly prefers an insectivorous diet. In the fruit season hereabouts, he is hard on the cherry and strawberry crop, and in the regions where they grow freely gorges himself on the berries of the red cedar and mountain ash. In many states, but not in Nebraska, be it said to our credit, sportsmen materially decimate the ranks of the robin in the autumn and winter, during which periods many are shot, as they are within the classification of game birds. In the northern states, New York excepted, they are extended perpetual protection by the laws. The crow, blackbird and the bluejay are the robin's natural enemies. They steal its eggs and hold unhallowed banquet upon its callow young.

Here two broods are raised each season, the first nest-making commencing in April or early May, and they are nowhere more plentiful than in the neighborhood in which I reside, 3716 Jackson street, where the exuberant residential shade trees of the Kirkendall, Squires, Barker, West, my own, and other adjacent properties, afford them splendid opportunities for trysting, nidification and rearing families. The hen does by odds the major portion of the labor and consumes but three or four days in the construction of her aerial home of tiny twigs, straw, shreds of rags, bits of cotton, hair and other like materials. Then the eggs--a delicate, tender lapis lazuli--one a day until three, four or five are deposited. On the eleventh day the young break the shell, in eight more the eyes are open, and about a fortnight later they leave their home in maple, catalpa or fruit tree never to return to it again. During the period of incubation the cock bird has had but little to do, except to cheer his patient mate by voice and example, but no sooner is the first clutch hatched than they are put under his exclusive charge, while the mother has her holidays. She is apparently larger than her liege lord, and the hues of her plumage much lighter, and yet she does not weigh as much. The cock has a deep chestnut or dark reddish vest, with a tender shading of olive gray, and a black head and tail.

Although robin red-breast has been a more familiar spirit because his habitats are so widely spread he has more sides to his lovely nature than many gaudier birds, and there is no bird I am fonder of studying than this universal little feathered friend. What gives such a charm to this frail creature I hardly know, but it is not his fine flavor or the satisfaction of shooting him, as is the case with the jacksnipe and the quail. Before the pure white of the blood root illumines the sodden leaves, and almost before the purling note of the bluebird is heard upon the vernal air, or the liquid tinkle of the plover sounds again from the heights above, I go forth to renew acquaintance with the happy but homely robin. Where the scarlet arils of the bitter sweet still light up the leafless but budding thickets along the Elkhorn's bottom, what a thrill the first warbling of the robin sends through the soul of the lover of the wild beauties of the outer world. And when the snowy involuters of the catalpa brightens the surrounding green, and the flute-like tones of the catbird make the falling of eventide so sweet, I have lingered in the dooryard to drink in his good night caroling to his nesting bride.