Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Myth Buster #1: Robins

American Robin. Photo Wiki by Dakota Lynch

Every year, usually in late February or early March, I get a phone call or two about robins. The caller says "Spring is coming soon, the robins are back."

Myth: Robins are the harbinger of spring.

Truth is: We have American robins (Turdus migratorius) year round. Some of our nesting robins may migrate a little to the south and are replaced by more northern robins that migrate here. But we have them all the time and their population is booming because, it is assumed, we keep making short grassed lawns for them to feed in.

Case in point: The Audubon Christmas Bird Count in Knoxville was held the last day of 2016. My group only counts a small portion of the 15-mile diameter count circle. Yet, my group of six counters—Patty Ford, Eddy Whitson, Vickie Henderson, Cheryl Greenacre, Rachael Eliot, moi—tallied a total of 130 robins. It was the third most numerous species behind ring-billed gulls and crows. It was a big day for crows. And I would strongly suspect that we under-counted robins because they are very active in loose flocks. Truthfully, at one point I grew tired of counting robins and longed for a single diminutive winter wren, which sadly we did not find.

So. We have robins all winter. 

Bonus myth buster: American robins are not true robins. They were mislabeled centuries ago. They are actually thrushes, in the genus Turdus, Latin for thrush. A better name would have been rust-breasted thrush, but it's too late for that.

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