Where have all the robins been?

When we see a robin in our yard, we know it’s spring.

But the truth is that some robins are here throughout the winter in the woods, according to Darryl Speicher, naturalist with the Monroe County Environmental Center. “Every year we see a few here and there in the woods,” Speicher said.

When yards are frozen over, they can still find something to eat. “They eat all kinds of things in winter,” Speicher said. Berries and bittersweet are among them.

For example last year when we had a lot of snow, Speicher said on the nastiest day of all, with freezing rain and cold, robins were at the nature center chowing down on Japanese barberry.

“If we get eight inches of snow they won’t starve. They have no problem going into the woods to get berries,” Speicher said.

Even bluebirds can be here in winter. “They behave like robins. When there is a really cold snap, bluebirds are outside on the winterberry shrub.”

It’s not the season or the temperatures that bring them to the Poconos. It’s the amount of daylight —  known as photo period — that brings songbirds flocking back to the Poconos.

“It’s interesting how some birds are genetically predisposed to migration,” Speicher said. It’s a built in knowledge that as more daylight occurs, they know they will have availability of resources, Speicher said.

 “They have a general gist of where north is. Birds use stars as navigation aids,” Speicher said.

Now, they are scouting nests. “They really are backyard specialists,” Speicher said. Robins will nest in shrubs, exposed beams and on top of porch lights.”

This time of year they are singing loudly, setting up their territories.

And if you think you saw that bird before in your yard, you’re probably right. “When they get back, they are faithful to nesting in the same area,” Speicher said. “People ask, “Is that the same robin?’ It probably is.”

Baltimore orioles have been documented to show up on the same day each year.

And as faithful as they are to their breeding location here, that’s how faithful they are to their winter location, Speicher said.

By April 1, the tree swallows appear. That’s why they’re referred to as April Fool’s Day birds.

Through bird banding, naturalists have been able to discover that the northern most birds go the farthest south. Certain isotopes are present in their feathers that show where they’ve been.

Birds migrate at night, and how far robins can travel in a night depends of the weather. “They can get pretty good jumps in a night, going a couple hundred miles. Then they rest and bulk up during the day.”

Robins don’t go that far, stopping at coastal wetlands in the southeastern US, but not as far south as the tip of Florida.

 

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