Birds – The American Robin

(Merula migratoria) Thrush family


Length—10 inches.

Male—Dull brownish olive-gray above. Head black; tail brownish black, with exterior feathers white at inner tip. Wings dark brownish. Throat streaked with black and white. White eyelids. Entire breast bright rusty red; whitish below the tail.

Female—Duller and with paler breast, resembling the male in autumn.

Range—North America, from Mexico ‘to arctic regions. Migrations—March. October or November. Often resident throughout the year.

It seems almost superfluous to write a line of description about a bird that is as familiar as a chicken; yet how can this nearest of our bird neighbors be passed without a reference? Probably he was the very first bird we learned to call by name.

The early English colonists, who had doubtless been brought up, like the rest of us, on “The Babes in the Wood,” named the bird after the only heroes in that melancholy tale; but in reality the American robin is a much larger bird than the English robin-redbreast and less brilliantly colored. John Burroughs calls him, of all our birds, “the most native and democratic.”

How the robin dominates birddom with his strong, aggressive personality! His voice rings out strong and clear in the early morning chorus, and, more tenderly subdued at twilight, it still rises above all the sleepy notes about him. Whether lightly tripping over the lawn after the ” early worm,” or rising with his sharp, quick cry of alarm, when startled, to his nest near by, every motion is decided, alert, and free. No pensive hermit of the woods, like his cousins, the thrushes, is this joyous, vigorous ” bird of the morning.” Such a presence is inspiriting.

Does any bird excel the robin in the great variety of his vocal expressions ? Mr. Parkhurst, in his charming ” Birds’ Calendar,” says he knows of ” no other bird that is able to give so many shades of meaning to a single note, running through the entire gamut of its possible feelings. From the soft and mellow quality, almost as coaxing as a dove’s note, with which it encourages its young when just out of the nest, the tone, with minute gradations, becomes more vehement, and then harsh and with quickened reiteration, until it expresses the greatest intensity of a bird’s emotions. Love, contentment, anxiety, exultation, rage—what other bird can throw such multifarious meaning into its tone ? And herein the robin seems more nearly human than any of its kind.”

There is no one thing that attracts more birds about the house that a drinking-dish—large enough for a bathtub as well; and certainly no bird delights in sprinkling the water over his back more than a robin, often aided in his ablutions by the spattering of the sparrows. But see to it that this drinking-dish is well raised above the reach of lurking cats.

While the robin is a famous splasher, his neatness stops there. A robin’s nest is notoriously dirty within, and so carelessly constructed of weed-stalks, grass, and mud, that a heavy summer shower brings more robins’ nests to the ground than we like to contemplate. The color of the eggs, as every one knows, has given their name to the tint. Four is the number of eggs laid, and two broods are often reared in the same nest.

Too much stress is laid on the mischief done by the robins in the cherry trees and strawberry patches, and too little upon the quantity of worms and insects they devour. Professor Tread-well, who experimented upon some young robins kept in captivity, learned that they ate sixty-eight earthworms daily—” that is, each bird ate forty-one per cent. more than its own weight in twelve hours! The length of these worms, if laid end to end, would be about fourteen feet. Man, at this rate, would eat about seventy pounds of flesh a day, and drink five or six gallons of water.”