Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

February 19, 1922. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 57(18=21): 3-W.

Robin Time is on the Way
Red Breast is the Most Friendly of All Birds

By Sandy Griswold.

That the limbs of the trees are still bare and all the country bound up to fetters of ice, the buds of the cottonwoods are swelling and have become sticky, and the elms and ashes, and even the maples, too, ar putting on a thin, almost intangible film of brown, and we know that robin time is on the way. And how we'll enjoy them when they do come, as none of them lingered here as usual this winter, for when they did get up and go - late in October - they went, absolutely to the last bird. As is well known, many of these birds stay with us throughout the winter months, and it doesn't seem to matter how severe or inclement the season may be, at that, I have encountered them many a time in below zero weather; and a region where they were to be found, if they were found anywhere, was in the big thick woods and tangly ravines, which spread out in wonderful expansion between the upper and lower roads to Calhoun, and about midway between tis legendary old Mormon settlement and the village of Florence. But there were none of them to be found there this winter.

I have made several trips up there on auspicious days, especially for the purpose, but have failed to see or even hear the chirp of a single robin. The tomtits, bluejays and the cardinals were most always in evidence, but no robins, and there is little doubt about it - redbreast made a completer exit from this particular neck of the world last October than in any fall I can recall since my long residence here. Therefore, the robin being the most beloved bird of them all to a larger proportion of the people than any other, once more I reiterate, how glad we'll be to welcome them back, when they do come; and they'll be here, mark me, within the next fortnight - that is, of course, if Old Boreas does not get his dander up again and put in an embargo in the way of cold and snow that will cause them to defer leaving the warm and languorous southland, and we'll have to wait a bit longer.

Merula migratoria, that is what the scientists call this innocent and inoffensive little dooryard friend of ours. Considering the fact that we all know robin redbreast so well and are so familiar with him, he may seem like a rather trite subject to some, yet there is such a vast amount of ignorance rife about this most common visitor of our woods and fields, and our very gardens and doorways, that I feel a few facts will not prove unwelcome to many.

Some Questions About the Robin

Ask almost any of your friends and a considerable number who pretend to know all about our birds, how many broods the robins raise a season in this your own latitude? How many eggs does mamma robin lay and what is their color? How far north of us do they go, and where do they go in the winter time, and I am not one bit uncertain about the acceptability of this little paper. Anyway, if I was, I love to tell what little I know of our birds, as well as the fauna and flora we find about us, and I expect to continue the subject as long as I am able to wield a pencil.

Of course all the students know that the sweetest bird we call robin, is not a robin at all, and in fact we have no birds of this name in this country.

When the Pilgrim Fathers landed at Plymouth Rock, olden histories tell us that they were quickly in love with a bold, yet friendly red-breasted bird that came hopping to meet them. This bird was much larger, plumper and heavier than their beloved robin, across the seas, but it so vividly reminded them of it on account of the color of its breast, which isn't anything like the hue of their own bird, that they at once called it a robin.

Thus it was that the American red-breasted migratory thrush became a robin, and he has remained such ever since, and will continue so, doubtlessly, down to the end of time, just as the hare became a rabbit and the grouse a chicken or a partridge. And it is for this reason I am reluctantly inclined to think that our revered old Puritans were more conspicuous for their bigotry than they were for their ornithological knowledge.

Bold, Yet Timid and a hardy Bird

The robin is about the friendliest and most confidential of all our birds, not even excepting the cedar-bird and the chickadee, and at the same time he is as bold as he is timid, and hardier than most of his congeners who are looked upon as real winter birds.

But speaking about his absolute vanishment all through the winter months now so rapidly drawing to a close, I want to mention that I have met him in latitude 44 degrees, and where 40 degrees Fahrenheit is frequently registered, way up on the upper peninsula of northern Michigan, on my olden time deer hunts, as late as Christmas day.

We had killed a deer that morning right hard by the lumber camp at which we were stopping, and while we were skinning it out a pair of robins suddenly appeared from the thick firs and perched and hopped about us with an almost entire absence of fear and ate eagerly the bits of flesh and fat we tossed to them. With everything locked up tight by the cold, and with the ground almost everywhere covered with a foot of snow, it was difficult to conceive upon what they subsisted, yet as interested as I was in the birds and their habits, even as long ago as that, I hadn't the heart to kill and dissect one of these little courageous visitors at such a time.

Since then, however, I have learned that the robin can take liberties with his digestion and feed on a greater variety of food than most of our birds, although when obtainable he undoubtedly favors an insectivorous diet. In the fruit season, however, hereabouts, he is pretty hard upon our cherries and our strawberries, yet at that, seldom gorges himself upon these delicacies as he does in the late fall, farther north, on the berries of the red cedar and mountain ash.

Redbreast is a Many Sided Bird

The reason why the robin is such a familiar little spirit is because his habitats are so widely spread, and because he has more sides to his lovely nature than any of the gaudier birds. There is no bird I am fonder of watching than this little universally admired fellow. What gives such a charm to him I hardly know, but to know that he has this charm is sufficient, and even before the white of the bloodroot illumines the sodden leaves, and almost before the prling note of the bluebird is heard upon the vernal air, or the liquid cry of the killdeer sounds again from the heights above, I go forth to renew acquaintance with this happy but homely little redbreast.

Where the orange arils of the bittersweet still light up the leafless but budding thickets out along the Platte's bottom, what a thrill the first warbling of the robin sends through the soul of a life-long lover of the wild beauties of the outer world. And when the snowy involucre of the catalpa brightens the surrounding green, and the flutelike tones of the catbird makes the falling of the eventide so sweet, I linger in my doorway to drink in his good night carolings to his nesting bride, in the maples in the park across the way.

In This Region Two Broods a Year

In this particular region the robins as a rule raise two broods, but that is nothing to excite undue wonder. The first nest making begins in April and early May, and they are nowhere more plentiful than in the neighborhood where I reside, on the outskirts of Turner park, and here one day early last October, when the robins were marshalling for the long pilgrimage south, I counted along the lawn that borders the walk on the east side of the park from Dodge to Farnam street, no less than 111 of these birds.

All last summer, and the previous fall, too, we fed a pair, and, often as many as four or five of them, at a time, on our east windowsill, and there was one elderly male we gave a pet name to, as we could easily recognize him by his blacker hood than the rest possessed, and a small white splotch over his left eye. But we would have known him without these marks, as he would come to our call, and allow us to hover fairly over him, as we told him how dear he was, and how proud of him we were. And now we are waiting anxiously to see whether he is coming back to us again this spring. We are feeding the same pair of chickadees we did last winter, and are hoping and praying that nothing has happened to "our robin."