Whatever Happened to the First Robin?

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The first robin of spring!

How long has it been since we’ve heard about that “first robin”? Or seen one?

First Robin

When I was a kid, we took the first robin seriously. Birds had the good sense to fly south for the winter. That was back when we had real winters. At least we did in Tennessee.

Some birds, of course, were hardy enough to tough it out. But robins migrated, then came back.

Their return was a Big Deal. So we always watched, each of us hoping to be the first to see – and report – that first robin.

Calendar or no, this told us spring was here, or at least near. That first-robin ritual was just as important as (and closer to home than) the annual will-the-groundhog-see-his-shadow business.

Now, though, there’s no longer any “first robin of spring”. Robins stick around throughout the winter. There’s no more first robin, because there’s no longer any last robin.

This new order of things snuck up on me. I must not have been paying attention. But several years ago I noticed I’d been seeing robins all year long, pecking around Tennessee snowdrifts. Maybe some still migrate. For all I know, maybe most still do. But clearly not all.

Cheri, it turns out, had been wondering about this too. Like me, she remembers when robins – all of them – flew south to wait for warmer weather.

It would be easy to lay this at the door of climate change. I’m pretty sure Tennessee winters are warmer than they used to be. Maybe robins no longer feel any need to fly south to keep from freezing.

But maybe the answer is more complicated. Maybe some species or sub-species of birds are evolving. Maybe more stick around because lots of people are putting out feeders stocked with birdseed. Maybe pollutants or power lines are messing with their migratory instincts.

Theories, anyone? Seriously. I’d love to know!


Comments

Whatever Happened to the First Robin? — 4 Comments

    • Yes, sort of — but the answer is more complicated than that. I need to address this in an essay of its own. Thanks for asking, and please stay tuned!

  1. I grew up in the tropical region of India. India has temperate zones too where it gets real cold, but by and large most of the country is tropical. We have rain, sun, humidity, green leaves, ripe fruits, warm air. There were no “real” winters. Winters would get cold (more like fall in Massachusetts!) and then warm up pretty quickly. So as a child, when I read Russian children’s story books (why Russian? Because USSR and India were allies when I was growing up) and their descriptions of cold winters with snow everywhere, people huddled up indoors by a fire, the silence outside except the sound of snow and wind, I was intrigued (to say the least). I had never seen it. Your comment about real winters and robins migrating to the south and coming back in spring made me think of all of that!

    I don’t have any theories, but I agree with the one about people leaving birdseed out. There are in general more warm places now and more food, so birds do not have to leave I suppose. Although, even in Phoenix where it doesn’t snow, I see the common birds that hang out in our yard all summer disappear after fall. It gets quite quiet.

    • Well, I agree that lots of common birds (including robins) still disappear during the winter by moving south. But the mere fact that some of them stick around is enough to mess with my head. ≧◔◡◔≦

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