Saturday, February 23, 2008

first Robin of the season

On Monday, February 18, when I was heading to the flower store to order some flowers for my Mom's birthday (which is February 19--Happy Birthday, Mom!), I noticed a bird sitting on a telephone wire above the street in front of my apartment building. He (sex uncertain?) was making a lot of noise--I'm not sure I could call all of it singing, though most of it was quite lyrical. I went running back into the apartment and asked my daughter to come out and look at the bird since she's the one with some birding experience but neither of us could tell for sure what it was. I was hoping it was a robin (I've been looking for one for weeks) but when I listened to the robin calls posted at Journey North, one of my favorite phenology sites, they didn't match.

On Friday, February 22, when I dropped off my (way overdue) books at the library, I noticed big bird with a rather fluffy orange-red chest in a tree alongside the library. I prowled around the tree for quite a while, looking up, trying to decide if it was a robin. It looked a bit odd, as if it's orange-red breast was split in two and I always think of robins as having smooth red breasts. But, thanks to Journey North's video, I realized I was seeing a robin preening. He must have felt quite safe up there in that tree as this is not an activity a robin would engage in if he (again I'm not sure of gender but apparently male robins show up first) was feeling unsafe.

I went to Journey North to see if I could figure out if my robin was a male or a female. Probably a male, as the males arrive first. They listed the following markers for Robin phenology: first male seen, first wave (a group of robins seen together), first earthworms, first robin singing (male robins mark their territory with song), first female (they come later after the male has established his turf), first male battle, nest building, incubation of eggs, young hatch, young fledge, young take wing, new nest (or next batch).

I doubt that my singer on the telephone wire was a robin since no one else in my area has reported hearing any robins sing. But it was great to look at the robin map and see the first two robin sightings in Seattle were reported by Beth, who's a School of the Seasons subscriber.

I also found a great article on the etymology of the scientific name for the American robin: Turdus migratorius. No it's not what you think. Turdus is Latin for thrush and the author explains its relationship to the word Sturdy, which originally meant "trashed" or "hammered" because of the way thrushes act after they feast on fermented berries in fall. The French have an expression which means "drunk as a thrush."


topaztook said...

Glad you saw a robin and a ...whatever. The book "Why Birds Sing" by David Rathenberg might provide more insight into your bird's noise -- especially if you read music, which I don't, but it was still interesting.

Waverly Fitzgerald said...

I love the book Why Birds Sing. I especially like it that he doesn't fall for the traditional behavioral explanations (they do it to attract mates, they do it to establish territory) but is willing to consider that birds might sing for the same reason we do, because it's beautiful.