Diary entry for March 7, 2014: "Ted Brown, who lives in Farmer's Valley, told me that he saw a large flock of robins this morning."
After checking past diaries, I noted that March 2, 1999, was the earliest date I found on seeing my first robin of spring. By now, I'm sure we've all seen robins.
The early returning robins often find nasty weather, causing us to wonder why they didn't wait a few weeks before making the trip north.
Quite a few years ago I heard the following story: The robins already had returned when a late deep-cold freeze, with temperatures never rising above zero, hit our area. A woman heard something hit her window and when checking outside she found a robin laying in the snow. The woman took the bird, which was more dead than alive, into the house, where she tried to keep it warm and also give it food. Then, she got the idea to call the airport to see if any flights were going to Florida and found that one was scheduled. Much to her surprise, the airline personnel agreed to her request to take the robin to Florida, where it would be released. This story goes to show how far people will go to help wildlife that are in trouble.
During a drought one year, I received a call from a man who said he noticed the robins were having a hard time finding worms in his yard. Of course, the robins' favorite meal of earthworms is not readily available during a drought because the worms would be deep in the soil, seeking moisture.
The caller stated he had put a variety of seeds in the bird feeder; however, the robins did not feed on them. I told him that the only time robins might visit feeders is in early spring when a late storm hits and everything is covered with ice and snow; however, once the weather clears, the robins no longer will visit feeders.
Why do robins rush north only to fight late spring snow and ice storms? Well, the answer is simple. The male robins need to come back early so they can set up their home territories.
In about 10 to 14 days, the females will follow, with the juvenile birds (both males and females) returning last.
The male robin will return to the same territory that he had the previous year. If the female survives, she also will return to the same area. Females and juveniles are not as precise as adult males; however, there are many documented cases in which a female mated with the same male and built her nest in either the same tree or niche on a porch for consecutive years.
One study showed that 55 percent of a group of robins returned to the same community; 20 percent returned within 10 miles; and 10 percent settled 100 miles from where they were hatched.
If a robin does change its territory, it does so in a southern movement. For instance, a robin hatched in the east would not migrate to the west but rather would stay south of where it was hatched.
I'm often asked, "Do robins nest when they go south for the winter?" No. As a matter of fact, while in their wintering grounds, which is the southern United States, robins do not show territorial aggressiveness.
Male robins only select territories in their northern breeding grounds and, even then, they'll only defend the territory until the end of the breeding season.
By the middle of August in our area, robins will have stopped chirping in the mornings, an indication that the breeding season is over.
The average size of a robin's territory is about 1/2-acre. Of course, this all depends on their population and food supply. The first male robin to arrive north usually tries to stake out a large territory and, as more and more robins stream north, the size of territory shrinks.
There also are communal feeding grounds (football fields, cemeteries, golf courses, etc.) set up that are open to all robins. Although territories could overlap, with two sets of robins looking for food in the same area, it is unlikely to find two sets of robins nesting in the same area.
A male will defend the center of its territory more aggressively than the outer edges. The bird defending the territory most often will win the conflict, especially if the fight takes place near the center of his territory.
If a male robin is dispossessed from his territory, which rarely but sometimes happens, the female will not leave with him but accepts the winner. Therefore, it is assumed that a female is attracted more to the territory than to the male.
Well, the robins have returned and spring has sprung. The most interesting time to observe wildlife is when they are raising their families. So pull on your boots, go outside and enjoy nature.
Bower retired after 34 years as a wildlife conservation officer for the state Game Commission. He has published several books about his experiences. Questions and comments may be sent to him at 153 Redington Ave., Troy PA 16947.