Non-bird­ers could watch these robins all day

Penticton Herald - - LIFE - FRED TRAINOR

It used to be that I could write every­thing I know about birds on a grain of rice. Now, here I am, writ­ing a col­umn about birds. Ap­par­ently, bird­ing is a pop­u­lar hobby, but not some­thing I have done, nor plan to do. Ex­cept for the fam­ily of robins that has claimed a tree in our yard as their home.

First of all, I know noth­ing about the habits of mi­gra­tory birds but, as Yogi Berra once said: “You can ob­serve a lot by watch­ing.” And that’s what we do as we sit on our side deck, en­joy­ing a glass of wine be­fore din­ner. We watch this fam­ily of robins go through their daily rou­tines.

As I write this, Mama Robin is sit­ting on this sum­mer’s sec­ond batch of eggs. Papa Robin is hard at work, pro­vid­ing worms from our gar­den to keep up her strength. (Their pre­vi­ous off­spring are still around but, what­ever their jobs are, they don’t seem to in­clude find­ing worms for mom.) Once the new chicks hatch, both par­ents will go worm­ing, spell­ing one another off in the nest.

I wish I could do jus­tice to de­scrib­ing what Carol and I have dubbed the “Preda­tor Dance,” per­formed by the hus­band be­fore he gives the worm to the mis­sus. First, he sits on the fence, worm dan­gling from his mouth. When he fig­ures there are no preda­tors watch­ing, he jumps down onto the lawn. But, just in case, he doesn’t go di­rectly to the nest; he scur­ries along the grass maybe a half-dozen steps; stops and re­mains mo­tion­less for a few sec­onds, re­peats the process and then, when he thinks there’s no threat, he shoots up into the nest.

A bit of re­search tells me there are Amer­i­can Robins, Euro­pean Robins and In­dian Robins. I guess we have Cana­dian Robins in our back­yard and I’m sure you have unan­swered ques­tions about robins that keep you awake nights. For ex­am­ple:

Do robins mi­grate south in the win­ter? Yes, but not al­ways to warm cli­mates. Their mi­gra­tion is more in re­sponse to food than to tem­per­a­ture. Fruit is the robins’ win­ter food source, so maybe they just get as far as Oliver or Osoy­oos.

Do robins use the same nest year af­ter year? Gen­er­ally, no, but if they have nest­ing suc­cess in a place, they will of­ten re­turn there, which is what we be­lieve our robins have done for three or four years now.

Are robins monog­a­mous? Yes, dur­ing the breed­ing sea­son, though the fe­male might look for a new mate if some­thing hap­pens to her first mate.

We have gone from not giv­ing a hoot about birds to be­ing fas­ci­nated by our robins, how hard they work, how de­voted they are to one another and how much smarter they are than other robins in the Okana­gan. If that paints us as eas­ily charmed, we’re OK with that.

Fred Trainor lives in Okana­gan Falls. Email: fred­trainor@shaw.ca

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