Robins & Migration Changes

A Gathering of Geese (by StarbuckGuy)

I added a Misc category to Silver Bullets today. A place to gather miscellaneous thoughts that have no agenda or form or purpose. Random thoughts, daydreams, fragments, speculations. Everyone needs a ‘misc’ category in their lives. There are so many things that don’t fit neatly into convenient slots.

For instance, on the topic of Change, I’ve been thinking about robins:  the North American robin, misnamed by homesick Englishmen who settled in the new world, but dear to us nonetheless. Our robin is actually a thrush and bears little resemblance to the cute English robin, or ‘Robin, The’ as it’s listed in UK bird guides.

The thing about robins, if you live in Canada or in the northern United States, is that they migrate south in the winter. Or they’re supposed to. Keen birders who participate in the annual winter census of local birds have always turned up a robin or two — some robins try to winter over. Whether they make it or not, eking out a tentative existence on berries and other food sources, is unknown.

But these past few winters I’ve noticed more and more robins in my neighbourhood where they wouldn’t normally be. A day or two back I saw six or seven of them. I hear their clucks early in the morning when I go for a walk. Why the change from previous years?

My uneducated guess is global warming, one of the biggest agents of change the planet is experiencing. If the winters are, on average, a little shorter and a little warmer, I suspect more of the overwintering robins survive. When spring comes, they’re already here, perhaps staking out the best yards for territory. Maybe, after a few generations, the overwintering robins lose the genetic instinct to migrate south.

Mere speculation on my part, but in my lifetime I’ve seen a precedent: the Canada Goose. Back in my boyhood when geese were truly wild, and hunting and eating wild game and fowl was still fashionable, geese migrated south in the winter. Their famous V-formations in flight are to this day the archetypal symbol of migration.

Then times got easy. People quit hunting them and they became tamer. People fed them and they multiplied. Large numbers of them, especially in urban areas, have simply forgotten how to migrate. They’ve become overpopulated pests.



About Gene Wilburn

Gene Wilburn is a writer ~ photographer ~ humanist
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6 Responses to Robins & Migration Changes

  1. MattNJohnson says:

    This is thought provoking because we had an unseasonablly cold and snowy winter last year and this year we’re off to another unusual weather pattern with two feet of snow when we usually, in the last 15 years that I can remember, only have a few inches this time of year. I think it’s all related, but with different affects.

  2. adam says:

    Maybe they have learned they can get food from humans without packing their bags for the intercontinental flight to other feeding grounds…

  3. Gene says:

    Matt, they say that with global warming, the result can often be strong extremes of weather. That it’s the average weather that’s getting warmer. The cold, snowy weather of last winter and, so far, this one, is more the way it was when I was a kid. Weather is certainly a challenge to understand.

  4. Gene says:

    Adam, it could be, though robins don’t eat human food like, say crows or gulls would. They eat worms mainly (though not much in the winter obviously) and they like certain berries. It’s easier to understand the geese. They love grass and eat up our parks. With no humans taking potshots at them, and no natural predators in the urban areas, life’s a big free lunch.

  5. JohnB says:

    US border authorities require passports for those who are flying into the States. Robins are unable to show their ears in the photos so their applications keep getting rejected. OTOH, there is this alternative:

  6. Gene says:

    Adam, that song is a hoot!

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