American Robin - Planesticus migratorius migratorius (Linnaeus )
| OTHER NAMES:
Fieldfare; Common Robin; Robin Redbreast; Redbreast; Migratory Thrush; Canada Robin; Northern Robin.
| GENERAL DESCRIPTION:
Length, 10 inches. Head, black; upper parts, gray; under parts, reddish and white. Bill, decidedly shorter than head, compressed, terminal 2/3 gradually and increasingly curved downward; wings, rather long and pointed; tail, shorter than wing, even or slightly rounded, the feathers broad.
| ADULT MALE IN SPRING & SUMMER:
Head black; chin white; throat streaked with white and black; back, lesser wing-coverts, rump, and upper tailcoverts plain, deep mouse-gray or brownish slate-gray; larger wing-coverts and tertials darker, becoming pale mouse-gray on edges; primary coverts dark brownish slate, or dusky, edged with pale gray; tail dull slate-black or sooty black, with narrow grayish edgings; chest, breast, upper abdomen, sides, flanks, and under wing-coverts plain, deep cinnamon-rufous; lower abdomen, anal region, and under tail-coverts, white, the latter with concealed portion mainly gray; white spots at the extremities of the outer tall-feathers, showing plainly when. the bird is in flight; bill, yellow; iris, deep brown; legs and feet, dark horn color or blackish brown.
| ADULT MALE IN AUTUMN AND WINTER:
Similar to the spring and summer plumage, but gray of upper parts tinged with olive; cinnamon-rufous feathers of under parts edged with white and other slight variations of the normal plumage.
| ADULT FEMALE:
Similar to the male, but usually much duller in color, with gray of upper Darts lighter and browner and encroaching more on head, the blackish feathers
of under parts paler. Young: Head as in adults, but the black duller; back and shoulders, grayish-brown or olive; rump and upper tail-coverts, brownish-gray; wings and tail as in adults, but wing-coverts with terminal wedge-shaped spots or streaks of pale rusty, buff, or whitish; chin and throat, white or Dale buffy, margined laterally with a stripe of blackish or a line of blackish streaks; under parts cinnamon-rufous, conspicuously spotted in very young birds with black, the lower abdomen white or pale buffy.
A thick but symmetrical bowl, made of mud reinforced with leaves and twigs, in which are frequently woven leaves, twine, paper and rags. It is lined with soft grass, and may be placed (frequently quite near the ground) in any kind of tree, or upon any suitable projection from a house, or within or without barns, sheds, and other outbuildings.
4 or 5 (occasionally 6), greenish-blue, unmarked; usually two broods a season and sometimes three.
Eastern and northern North America; breeding from the southern Alleghenies (in western North Carolina, etc.), Pennsylvania, New Jersey, the New England States, Ohio, central and northern Indiana and Illinois, Iowa, northward to the limit of tree growth in Ungava (Fort Chimo), and northwestward to the valley of Kowak River in northwestern Alaska; westward nearly to the Rocky Mountains (to the Pacific at Cook Inlet, Alaska); in winter south.
ward to southern Florida and along the Gulf coast to Texas; accidental or occasional in the Bermudas and Cuba; accidental in Europe (as escapes from captivity?).
The Robin's remarkably wide distribution, its conspicuous plumage (notably the fine red breast and black head of the male), its reputation as a harbinger of spring, and above all its evident
fondness for human society, have combined to make it probably the best known bird in America.
Its chief rival seems to be the Bluebird, whose range is virtually as great as that of the Robin,
and whose plumage is also very beautiful, while its peculiarly sweet and joyous warble is a surer sign of approaching spring than is the appearance of its larger relative. For, although practically all of the Robins who breed in the temperate zone migrate to warmer latitudes in the autumn, their places are taken by birds who have bred further north, so that the species is usually well represented in its northern range even in the dead of winter and where the snow lies deep.
At these times, and especially when the weather
is very severe, the Robins are most likely to be found in wooded swamps, where there is plenty of cover.
The Bluebird also displays charming confidence in the friendliness of man, and occasionally stays in the north during the winter months; but the Robin is, after all, the more characteristic of' the two birds, and the more in evidence, too, because of its fondness for the lawns, and the trustfulness which it displays by building its nest and rearing its lusty family (who also take to the lawns as soon as they are able to get there) often on the woodwork or in the vines of a porch within a few feet of a window or door. As an instance of the curious and stupid things a bird may do in the way of nest-building, Mr. Burroughs tells the following story:
"I was amused at the case of a. Robin that recently came to my knowledge. The bird built its nest in the south end of a rude shed that covered a table at a railroad terminus upon which a locomotive was frequently turned.
When her end of the shed was turned to the north she built another nest in the temporary south end, and as the reversal of the shed ends continued from day to day, she soon had two
nests and two sets of eggs. When I last heard from her, she was constantly sitting on that particular nest which happened to be for the time being in the end of the shed facing the south.
The bewildered bird evidently had had no experience with the tricks of turntables."
The Robin's song has, perhaps, been a little overpraised, doubtless because of its significance in the spring. It is, in fact, a cheerful rather than a melodious warble, composed of ascending and descending phrases, the final one,
it must be admitted, likely to end in imperfect vocalization which suggests a lack of control of the vocal cords, and produces an effect not unlike that of the ludicrous break in the tones of a lad whose voice is changing. The call note also is bright and incisive rather than musical.
Another characteristic note of the Robin is sounded when danger is at hand, especially in the form of a cat. This is a peculiar, wailing cry, in a sort of undertone, and expresses both fear and sorrow. Very likely it may be evoked by other enemies, but it more often means a cat
and a very young Robin nearby. The birds foreboding under these conditions is really pitiful; for usually it displays great courage when its young are threatened in the nest, and frequently will swoop down on a prowling cat and actually strike it with its beak, meanwhile shrieking and screaming incessantly. This to-do often attracts other birds, who make common cause with the Robin against their common enemy, with the result that puss may be literally driven away.
Incredible though it may seem, until within a few years ago, the Robin was classified, in several of the southern States, as a " game bird," and as such was killed in countless thousands for food or for " sport." This slaughter of a beautiful and highly useful song bird is now forbidden by the Federal Migratory Bird Law, which became a statute on March 4, 1913, and under which all migratory game and insect-eating birds are made wards of Uncle Sam.
Spencer Trotter says that "Our American Robin was known to the early southern colonists as the 'fieldfare' and is so termed by Catesby.
The bird has many of the qualities of its British congener."
The economic status of the Robin probably has received more attention than that of any other bird. There is no denying the fact that the bird eats or injures a great amount of small fruit, especially cherries and berries in their season. On the other hand, it is equally certain that the Robin destroys enormous quantities of noxious insects. Nor should it be forgotten that the bird's raids upon cultivated fruits and berries are due largely to the destruction by man of the wild fruits and berries (especially wild cherries) which form part of its natural and preferred diet.
An examination of 350 stomachs of Robins shows that over 42% of its food is animal matter, principally insects, while the remainder is made up of small fruits and berries. Over 19% consists of beetles, about one-third of which are useful ground beetles, taken mostly in spring and fall, when other insects are scarce.
Grasshoppers make up about one-tenth of the whole food, but late in August comprise over 30% Caterpillars form about 6%, while the rest of the animal food is made up of various insects, with a few spiders, snails, and angleworms. All the grasshoppers, caterpillars, and bugs, with a large portion of the beetles, are injurious, and it is safe to say that noxious insects comprise more than one-third of the Robin's food.
Vegetable food forms nearly 58% of the stomach contents, over 47% being wild fruits, and only a little more than 4% being possibly cultivated varieties. Cultivated fruit, amounting to about 25%, was found in the stomachs in June and July, but only a trifle in August. Wild fruit, on the contrary, is eaten in every month, and constitutes a staple food during half the year. The depredations of the Robin seem to be confined to the smaller and earlier fruits.
In view of the fact that the Robin takes ten times as much wild as cultivated fruit, it seems unwise to destroy the birds to save so little. Nor is this necessary, for by a little care both may be preserved. Where much fruit is grown it is no great loss to give up one tree to the birds; and in some cases the crop can be protected by scarecrows. Where wild fruit is not abundant, a few fruit-bearing shrubs and vines judiciously planted will serve for ornament and provide food for the birds. The Russian mulberry is a vigorous grower and a profuse bearer, ripening at the same time as the cherry, and, so far as observation has gone, most birds seem to prefer its fruit to any other. It is believed that a number of these trees planted around the garden or orchard would fully protect the more valuable fruits.
Two variant forms of the American Robin occur within the bounds of the United States.
The Southern, or Carolinian, Robin (Planesticus migratorius achrusterus) is smaller in size and its color is paler and duller. It is found in the southeastern States. The other is called the Western Robin (Planesticus migratorius propinquus).
It averages slightly larger than its eastern congener, and the gray of its upper parts is a little
more olive and the red of the under parts paler.
It is found from Alaska to Mexico and from the Pacific coast to the Great Plains.
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