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Winter robins maintain area residences

January 19, 2018
Bob Madison - For the Chronicle , Shepherdstown Chronicle

You're not going daft.

Those sounds at dawn coming from nearby trees, fields or sources of water are indeed being made by robins.

As long as the weather isn't too brutal and a natural food supply is handy, some robins will remain in the mid-Atlantic region for the winter.

The small, shriveled fruits of ornamental trees, such as cherry, pear and crab apple, are enough to sustain the robins. Add in the berries that hang on shrubs and bushes through the cold-weather months, such as holly, sumac, juniper and hawthorns, and the robins can withstand what Mother Nature heaves at them.

Ground frozen by frigid temperatures won't deter the supposed harbingers of spring. Robins don't need worms or insects to compete with the harsh winter.

Landscaping plants that provide berries or fruit also aid them in finding necessary food.

Robins don't migrate. There aren't any 2,500-mile trips to South America for them, nor 3,000-mile flights to countries in the Southern Hemisphere. The birds go only as far south as they need to. If the areas to the north are covered by snow or entrenched in ice, then the robins remain here - in numbers much smaller than in summer, but in the trees and fields nonetheless.

They don't start chirping before sunrise this time of year, and they don't get in brush-fire fights over territory like in the spring.

Often, the ones remaining in our midst gather in small flocks and search for food together.

On the coldest of days, when the wind would chase even a polar bear to shelter, the robins fluff their feathers, resembling round, orange and black versions of their summer selves.

The fluffed feathers trap warm air next to their bodies and keep their bodies at the 104 degrees they must maintain to live.

It would seem the birds' feet would break off in the sustained cold, but there are no muscles in their legs so they never get dangerously cold. Blood flows to their legs and leaves just as quickly without getting too cold.

A round, puffy robin hunkered in an evergreen tree is simply using his fluffed feathers to keep warm before going off to seek ice-free water and the fruit of shrubs or ornamental trees in people's yards.

Their feathers are also waterproof and shed the elements because of the body oils the robins deliver when preening and keeping things in order.

At night, the robins seek shelter in evergreens whose boughs jut out and allow them to move near the center and away from the sting of the nastiest storms. Low-slung shrubs and bushes that have retained their leaves also are adequate for shelter.

If there's persistent snow and the ponds and creeks become frozen, then the robins might fly a hundred miles to the south and take up residence in an area not overpowered by the weather.

No, you're not hearing things or being invaded by old age. The robins are still here. They never left.

And when enough warm days free the ground from ice, the robins will become territorial again - leaving their small flocks, foraging for worms and insects - and people will say the harbingers of spring have come back to their summer grounds.

 
 
 

 

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