The Poets’ Birds: Robins

Proust had his madeleines. I have my robins.

The murmuring of robins evokes for me a quieter, more gracious world: childhood summers filled with the soft, shallow breathing of curtains at the window; faint scents of spirea and lilac; quiet, melodic wisps of song as parents encourage their nestlings toward sleep.

Baby robins wait for worms in Mena, Arkansas

Robins migrating through Texas will call to one another from the treetops, or create a tell-tale rustling of leaves as they search out insects and fruit in wooded areas, but coastal dwellers rarely hear this thrush’s song.

Last week, after sighting a first robin in Muskogee, Oklahoma, I luxuriated in their calls and songs as I traveled through Missouri and Arkansas. Occasionally, amused but sympathetic, I moved away so that parents could feed their babies.

The babies’ parent with a worm, nicely turned

The nature of robins — their cheerfulness, their industry, their almost self-effacing demeanor — helps to make them delightful icons of midwestern life. The trill of the corn-clinging blackbird might be more obvious; the rush of air past a nighthawk’s wings more dramatic; but the dependable robins are the ones whose song begins and ends the day.

Mary Oliver, born in Maple Heights, Ohio and a resident of Camden, Maine as a teenager, certainly heard the robin’s song throughout her formative years. But she more than heard it; she experienced, internalized, and reshaped the song, returning it to us here in soft, solemn, and perfect words that honor the well-loved bird.

 

It was spring
and I finally heard him
among the first leaves––
then I saw him clutching the limb
in an island of shade
with his red-brown feathers
all trim and neat for the new year.
First, I stood still
and thought of nothing.
Then I began to listen.
Then I was filled with gladness––
and that’s when it happened,
when I seemed to float,
to be, myself, a wing or a tree––
and I began to understand
what the bird was saying,
and the sands in the glass
stopped
for a pure white moment
while gravity sprinkled upward
like rain, rising,
and in fact
it became difficult to tell just what it was that was singing––
it was the thrush for sure, but it seemed
not a single thrush, but himself, and all his brothers,
and also the trees around them,
as well as the gliding, long-tailed clouds
in the perfect blue sky–––all of them
were singing.
And, of course, so it seemed,
so was I.
Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn’t last
For more than a few moments.
It’s one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
One of the things they say about it, that is true,
is that, once you’ve been there,
you’re there forever.
Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring, is it morning?
Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then––open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away.
                           “Such Singing in the Wild Branches” ~ Mary Oliver

Comments always are welcome.

 

129 thoughts on “The Poets’ Birds: Robins

  1. Beautiful poem! I feel fortunate because I too receive yearly visits of robins to my backyard. They comb every inch of the grassy parts and leafy ground, remains left from last Autumn. They indeed rustle the grounds looking for invertebrates and insects. However, these events reward my interest for avians but I’m not a poet neither a writer. I simply take pictures, my friend Linda does the heavy work! Thank you my friend! :)

    1. I’m so glad you have robins, too. They’re always a treat when they show up, and there’s no predicting where they’ll be: at least, around here. My suspicion is that their migration pattern varies according to the availability of food and other factors.

      One year, I found them three hundred miles away in our hill country. Two or three years later, they showed up for exactly two days in a wooded lot next to my grocery store — about five miles away. Not knowing is part of the fun — it’s always worth watching for them.

    1. You’re welcome, Julie. I’m glad you enjoyed this little souvenir from my trip. I’ve often found that the best ones don’t necessarily come from a shop.

  2. “the soft shallow breathing of the curtains….” beautiful phrase.
    Naturally I cannot fault Mary’s words either. And it reminds me of a time, actually in the city/suburb where I was living, when one morning at the local ‘park’ (which in point was simply an open plot of grassed area) while walking my dog, I gazed up into the sky at the hawk hovering, and whoosh! I was that bird in that sky, there was no separation. Time did stand still, or perhaps simply disappeared. Next day, there was a beautiful large hawk feather standing erect in the grass, awaiting my arrival I fancied. I still have it.
    As for songs, the Willywagtail gets my vote. https://wildambience.com/wildlife-sounds/willie-wagtail/
    Yes, the thrush have a beautiful melody, but there’s something about the cheekiness of these birds which I find endearing.
    Your images are always well chosen Linda, showing as much consideration as your words.

    1. I used to watch the sheer curtains in my grandparents’ back bedroom moving in the breeze when I was put down for a nap. For years, I’ve carried their image in mind but never could quite capture them in words. The phrase you mentioned finally did it. Strangely, it came to me in the middle of morning traffic while I was on my way to work.

      Those encounters we have — like yours with the hawk — are quite wonderful and wholly unpredictable. Annie Dillard’s story of the tree with the lights in it (from Pilgrim At Tinker Creek) comes to mind. It’s one of her most well-known quotations, but it’s worth adding here.

      One day I was walking along Tinker creek and thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with the lights in it. I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame.

      I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed. It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance. The flood of fire abated, but I’m still spending the power. Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells un-flamed and disappeared. I was still ringing. I had been my whole life a bell and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.

      1. Thank you. What leapt out at me was her saying – “thinking of nothing at all” . That is a state that brings many rewards, yet can be a struggle to reach.

  3. So different from our robins, which are tiny and not often seen. Mary Oliver’s poem is perfect for your post.

    1. I wondered if your robins were similar to the British robins, and when I found this listing of your robins,, I was completely amazed. The most fascinating is the pink robin. I’m used to associating pink with water birds, like the flamingo and roseate spoonbill. The thought of seeing a pink songbird is wonderful.

      1. They are the sweetest little things. But even when we had our olive farm 20km out of town I only saw one or two. A sighting of one of these birds is something to be treasured.

  4. So beautiful… Robins have a special place in my heart too. In the city home, sometimes I can see them in our garden… they are always alone, and don’t stay long on the currant tree…

    Beautiful written dear Linda, and I loved how you connected with Proust’ madeleines… Memories, beautiful coming from our childhood days and how lucky child we were, we all lived, experienced all these beauties of the nature… I worry about today’s children….

    And of course, coming from all these beautiful touches, how it lives in minds and souls, and turns to a poetry in the heart.. Oliver is amazing poet, I love her too.

    Thank you for this such a beautiful moments that you shared, dear Linda, Love, nia

    1. So many things can trigger our memories: taste, sound, scent. It’s wonderful when it happens, even though most of us can’t expand on it as did Proust — or Mary Oliver, for that matter.

      Most of the time, I see larger flocks of robins, because they arrive during the migration, and they travel in groups. A really large flock certainly can make a lot of noise as it scurries among the leaves. You’re right that so many of these experiences — and so much knowledge — just isn’t available to people who live focused solely on their phones and other devices. It does please me that more people are becoming aware of the issues, and that engagement with the natural world’s being encouraged in so many ways.

      I’m glad to know you have robins, too. I often think of your magpies, of course — it’s nice to have another species to add when I imagine your world.

      1. Of course, “So many things can trigger our memories: taste, sound, scent. It’s wonderful when it happens, even though most of us can’t expand on it as did Proust — or Mary Oliver, for that matter.” but at the end, we have to say something, as you did, “Proust had his madeleines. I have my robins”. Life doesn’t mean in names actually, means what we can give back or what we leave behind us… Big, great or small, doesn’t matter, we are all in the same circle, we complete each others.

        In nature we have some kind of birds, even in this town too, I mean in the nature of this town, I can say this, Şile is also famous because of her birds, bird-watchers following them… I am humble one and just I try to capture what’s going on around me…

        Thank you, Have a nice day, Love, nia

  5. Mary Oliver’s words are just perfect for the Robin’s song. That photo of the baby Robins is just superb. Yours, Linda?

    I’ve only seen a Robin once here in Australia and it was so far away all I could basically see was a splash of red in the middle of a Gum Tree, although enlarging my image was enough to prove my identification.

    1. Yes, unless I note otherwise, all of the photos in my blogs are mine.

      Interestingly, you were the one who taught me the little trick that allowed me to get the decent photo of the babies. At one point, we were talking about a photo you took at the zoo, shooting through the bars. I was surprised you were able to get such a fine image, and you mentioned using one-point focus. That’s what I did here. The leaves were so thick, I decided to try focusing just on the baby birds, and I was pleased with the result.

  6. Sweet and a nice cherry on the top to learn about the Willywagtail from eremophila … thanks for sharing

    1. Isn’t Willywagtail a great name? It always tickles me when the common names pick up on particular characteristics of a plant or animal, and then throw in a dash of humor as well.

      I thought of you for another reason on the trip. There still were some dogwoods in bloom. I know they grow in east Texas, but the only time I’ve ever seen them in all their glory was in Mississippi. Several plants common to Mississippi still were in bloom in Arkansas and Missouri, although they were fading. The spiderwort were especially lush, and there still was some wisteria.

    1. We always considered the robins one of the first signs of spring, and looked for them just as eagerly. Sometimes they arrived a bit early, and had a hard time finding worms, but I recently read that they do just fine even in snow if there are decent food supplies like berries around. It was good to see (and hear) them again.

    1. We played outside, too — the rule was, “Come home when the street lights come on.” By that time, the robins were nearly done chirping, and it was time for the lightning bugs to emerge. I suspect you did what we did — catching lightning bugs in a jar with holes in the lid and a bit of grass in the bottom. We’d set them on the window sill over night, and then release them in the morning. It was great fun.

    1. Lucky you, to have a morning robin — and lucky dog, to have a robin to bark at. Those of us who can’t hear their singing in real time at least have technology on our side. I never would have imagined there are YouTube hour-long loops of robin song, but of course there are.

  7. Until this spring I always thought a love of robins was universal. But I learned that one of my nieces hates them because a pair every year tries to build a nest where she doesn’t want them to, so she takes it down every day and the robins start all over again. Seem un-American to me. They sure do put up a noisy warning when you get too close to their nests, though. I have one near my front door right now and I watched in wonder one day when a robin dove down and came within a foot of my dog’s head. It was a warning to get his nose out of the scrub he was curiously peeking into.

    1. Once a bird’s decided on that perfect place for a nest, it can be hard to dissuade them. More than a few sailors here have kept their boats in port until the eggs the mother mallard laid in the cockpit or in a coil of rope finally hatched. Now and then, the new ducklings need a little help getting to the water; they’re not afraid to jump in, but they can’t get over the foot-high enclosure around the deck.

      I came across a good page with audio recordings of each kind of robin call, and their meaning. It’s interesting. I’ve heard each one, but always had divided them into “song” and “not song.” I suspect your little dog might have heard one of those warning calls — unless the robins decided on a surprise attack.

  8. A lovely poem and post. There’s a robin’s nest right now, on the top step of a ladder at my parents’ house, leaning against a shed, up under the eaves. My dad grumbled that he needed the ladder to clean the gutters, but wouldn’t disturb a robin’s nest. Fooling no one, pretty obviously glad for a 100% guaranteed way to evade Mom bugging him to clean out the gutters! Saved by a poetical bird from a decidedly un-poetical chore. 😊

      1. Did you happen to notice what’s on the very end of its beak? There’s another insect tacked on just in front of the worm. Spaghetti and meatballs, maybe?

          1. Hmmmmm… Since I don’t speak emoji, I’m at a loss here. Your symbols might mean that a nice Merlot would go well with the spaghetti and meatballs, but then again, you might be suggesting a Cabernet Sauvignon. On the other hand, perhaps you think I was blogging drunk when I added my comment about spaghetti and meatballs. That little face appears to be drooling…

            1. It’s the emoji “Dreaming of Pasta & Chianti Classico” My sister just got back from a college trip to Italy, which included a few cooking classes, so I’m hoping she’ll whip up something tasty next time I’m home.

    1. Who says we don’t benefit from the presence of nature in our lives? Your dad certainly has!

      The places that birds choose to nest are studies in creativity. I’ve seen wrens in old buckets, doves in palm trees, and swallows on the underside of floating docks in the marinas. These robin babies were exactly at eye level, in the middle of some kind of dense shrubbery. Even after I’d followed the parents long enough to be sure the nest was there, it took a good while to actually spot it, even with the babies putting up a racket when they sensed that worm-delivery was near.

      1. The newest status report from Rockin’ Robin on Jaybird Street: the young have already left the nest, either under their own power, or possibly the cat’s doing, and Dad is looking for a plastic robin to put in the nest.
        He figures Mom won’t look too closely, and he could get out of gutter-cleaning for another month or two.

  9. I’ve always felt strange whenever people equate robins with spring. Around our place robins are the birds of winter. In years past I would watch flocks of hundreds in the yard hunting for food. Robins and blue jays would alternate in their stays in the yard, switching places as the day would go by… Color on the gray days of winter…

    1. Isn’t it interesting how different your place and mine are, even though many people would say we’re in the same area? Some of your regulars, like waxwings, show up here only rarely, while others never appear at all. I’m pretty sure that all of your trees and shrubs — the cover they provide, and the food — are one reason you’re more bird-rich, although I do see various herons and egrets on a daily basis.

      It’s true that the large robin flocks I’ve seen were around in late autumn: once at the entrance to the Brazoria WR, and once in a large yard on Old Kirby in Seabrook. When I saw the flock at Brazoria, they appeared to be feasting on the seeds of Chinese tallow. I told them they could eat every seed and no one would complain.

  10. I wish I could get my pasta to twirl around a fork as well as those robin got his worm on the beak! Wonderful photos, Linda (the babies, especially — bravo!). I love robins. And pretty much most birds. A house wren has taken over the birdhouse outside Lizzie’s window and boy does she trill a lot! And if another bird is at the feeder she keeps right there till they are done. It’s a good birding season.

    There’s a fellow named David Gascoigne who is in Waterloo who comments a lot on my posts and he’s a major birder. He recently did something about the white around their eyes — some skin thing that affects robin pigment. It was his top post yesterday, I think. Fascinating stuff on birds over there! I’ll try to find the url and email you.

    1. I’m glad Lizzie has a front row seat for some of the avian entertainment. Dixie had her window seat, too, only about three feet from a birdbath (albeit with a window in between) and she would spend hours watching the action.

      I found Gascoigne’s blog. The mention of Waterloo caught my eye — not only because my maternal grandfather lived in Waterloo, Iowa, but also because a friend teaches at Waterloo Lutheran Seminary in Ontario. Gascoigne’s photos are great, and there’s clearly a wealth of information there — especially for my friends in his area. Thanks for the tip.

  11. Robins are the signal of spring here in NW Montana. Although, this year my notes show the first one was not seen until March 20th. There was still 5″ of snow depth and that stayed as at least a trace until April 15th. So, early on, they have to search pretty hard for food. Now, the robins tell us of the pending sunrise, singing early in the day (before 6 AM).

    1. Your comment about the robins arriving in March made me curious about normal migration times in your area, and I found this nice summary. There are some great tidbits in the article, like this one: “[In winter] Bohemian Waxwings fly about in large flocks, looking for winter berries. Merlins fly about too, looking for waxwings.” So goes life in the food chain.

      Until last week, I’d forgotten how early robins will sing. It’s a nice sound to wake to.

  12. We had robins in the yard year round when we lived in Houston. One such got caught by one of the cats and lost it’s tail feathers but it didn’t drive it away as I continued to see it for weeks. Now we live in Wharton, only an hour away, and I have yet, in the ten years we have owned this place, to see a single robin out here.

    1. Isn’t it strange how that works? There has to be an explanation for the birds’ preference for one location over another. I’m sure the folks at Audubon might know what it is; I should inquire. I’ve always assumed that places with plenty of trees and shrubs — lots of cover — would make the difference, but you have as much of that in Wharton as you would have had in Houston, and maybe more. Perhaps it’s a soil difference. All those Houston lawns might hold more grubs and worms.

  13. A thoughtful tribute to robins and also, to the past when people paid more attention to the outdoors. Love the photos: eager babies, conscientious parent.

    1. It took me a while to figure out that the worm-bearing robin was waiting for me to move away from the area. When I finally did, it flew directly to the shrub where the nest was located, and that’s how I found it.

      The line between indoors and outdoors seemed much thinner in those days. Screen doors, open windows, and porch-sitting were common, as were parental admonitions to “go outside and play.” A little more of all of those would benefit everyone today: especially the children.

  14. Lovely take-away from your trip, Linda! Besides being harbingers of Spring, Robins regularly dot our yards here. And recently, a mama Robin built her nest in a downspout off our front porch, meaning every time any of us get near, she races off shrieking like a wild thing! It’s been a real challenge watering my plants when I know she’s ready to dive-bomb me at any second!

    1. They are protective, aren’t they? I saw an encounter yesterday I never would have imagined: a swallow took on a green heron, and drove it away. I suspect the swallows are nesting under the docks at the marina again, and the heron was contemplating an easy meal.

      Robins are big enough that one coming straight at you certainly could get your attention. But won’t it be fun to see the babies when they finally fledge and start roaming your lawn? Lucky you!

  15. Wonderful memories for you! I loved the description of curtains breathing back when we would leave the windows open. Sometimes we have robins in the park next to our home but I have not seen any this year.

    1. Some childhood memories are like snapshots. There’s no before or after, only the vivid details of a moment in time. That’s how the scene from my summer nap times is: the curtains; the plain metal bed frame; the chenille bedspread; the sound of birds and the feel of the breeze.

      The distribution of robins here seems to vary widely from location to location, and from year to year. It’s like a birdy lottery; sometimes we get lucky, and sometimes we don’t.

    1. I’m glad it evokes some memories for you, Kayti. The biggest downside to those wonderful summers was having to go to bed before dark during the longest days of the year. Remember this, from Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses?

      In winter I get up at night
      And dress by yellow candle-light.
      In summer quite the other way,
      I have to go to bed by day.

      I have to go to bed and see
      The birds still hopping on the tree,
      Or hear the grown-up people’s feet
      Still going past me in the street.

      And does it not seem hard to you,
      When all the sky is clear and blue,
      And I should like so much to play,
      To have to go to bed by day?

    1. I was happy to be able to see the babies in the nest, and even more happy to be able to capture their image.

      We need rain, too, and I certainly hope you (and your robins) get some. It can’t be easy to build a nest, lay eggs, and hatch them, only to have food become scarce. The life of a bird isn’t as free and easy as we sometimes imagine it.

  16. There is a tree which is by but, alas not visible from my home office window. Earlier in the year, a pair built a nest in the tree, and the song of the thrush was heard in my land for day after glorious day. Mary Oliver pretty much nailed it in her usual inimitable way. They have always been a favorite bird of mine and I’m always glad to see them. The English robin is such a frail, almost aristocratic little bird. Our thrush with his brown jacket and red waistcoat is more suited to our rough and tumble country. I think they winter here in the flatlands of West TX.

    1. Still, having a nest in the neighborhood always is special: especially when it allows for a little song to drift around.

      I enjoyed your description of the English robin. I was surprised to discover how different it is when I first met it on a Christmas card from an English friend. It’s quite pretty, but as you say, our much larger bird has a different vibe. The map included in this Texas breeding bird atlas confirms my sense that they’re less common residents in my area than in yours. I hope the next nest is in your line of sight.

  17. I didn’t realize I was missing robins until I read this! Growing up in Pennsylvania and living for years in Chicago as an adult, robins were a summer mainstay. I especially remember them in the ambience you described in the first paragraph – outside an open window, chirping amid the spring and early summer smells. I also still remember as if it were yesterday the wonder of the first nest I saw with its pale blue eggs; my brother and I were in the front yard of our first little house, and we were so reverent as we gazed into THEIR little house. Happy memories, all brought up by a robin mention!

    1. What a wonderful memory that is — you and your brother discovering not only a nest, but an egg-filled nest. I didn’t realize that “robin’s egg blue” is very similar to the color of eggs laid by snowy egrets and little blue herons, as well as other birds. All of the blue eggs are pretty, but I think the robins’ are especially so. It makes sense that you’d be entranced.

      Despite being widespread and quite common — or perhaps because of it — the robins clearly evoke good memories for a lot of people. I’ve always remembered them fondly, but it was quite special to encounter them again.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it, Pete. Mary Oliver’s one of those poets whose work seems truly to complement the natural world, as well as to compliment it.

  18. Safe travels. Your photographs are stunning. We have loads of robins here on the Rancho but I have never tried to photograph them. Marvelous eyes you have.

    1. I’m back home now, though gone again for the weekend. Then, it’s back to a bit of routine, which I also enjoy. I was lucky to find that nest in a shrub right next to the veranda of the home in which I was staying. It gave me the opportunity to work at photographing the babies, who weren’t, after all, going anywhere. It’s a good thing I had ample opportunity, too. The ratio of good photos to poor was about 60:1, but in this case, one was enough.

  19. We have a wide variety of Robbins but one needs to have time on hand to spot them. They are not like the Kookaburra who will just about scoop down and eat your plate clean.
    A restaurant North of Sydney and situated on the water has a warning sign out for people to be beware of brazen Kookaburras taking food from plates and not to feed them.

    1. Ha! As I mentioned to Cheri just above, the fact that the nest was conveniently placed, and that I had a little time on my hands, worked to my advantage. But I also have been interested to hear that your robins are much more shy than ours, which are quite willing to live their lives in full public view.

      On the other hand, they’re not at all like your kookaburras. Those sound more like our seagulls and grackles. There are restaurants in Galveston and other waterside places that have strung netting above outdoor dining areas to help dissuade the gulls, who otherwise would be marching through the middle of your plate.

  20. You caught a great close-up of the chicks as well as the adult. The Robin is a bird I was not able to shoot when I had a bird blog many years ago, but then, I haven’t seen them much in Florida (they only winter here). In P.R. they do not even exist.

    Oliver’s poem is great. She has such bond with nature, and incites one to do also. I’m glad you post her poems on your blog.

    1. I worked for that photo, although the work was pleasurable. Even when I knew where the nest had been placed, I sometimes needed some time to find it again since it had been so well-hidden. Using one-point focus and metering helped to capture that bright eye and opened beak.

      It’s always interesting to find which species show up where. I was astonished to find that robins will over-winter in New England. It seems as long as the food is available, they can make it. That’s especially important for robins who show up in a given place before the earthworms have thawed out.

      I love Oliver’s work, and it seems she appeals to a broad range of people. She certainly can help to engage people whose interest in the natural world isn’t so keen.

  21. A brilliant poem by Mary Oliver. She was quite a word smith with an enticingly soothing verse after verse that could almost put me to sleep. She was a masterful poet in my humble opinion.

    The photo of the robin is quite good. Mouthful of worms. That is pretty much an iconic picture. I hear them in the winter sometimes. They have been know to be around in the summer in various places, so I assume they are nesting in my city. There are not that many but I have seen them scattered about although not in recent years since I retired from the VA hospital.

    Hope you trip is going well. Do be careful.

    1. Oliver’s great, isn’t she? I love sharing new poems of hers that I’ve found. It tickles me that a few in the poetry “establishment” don’t particularly favor her, but it’s not seemed to make much difference to the rest of the world.

      I’m glad you have robins, too. Down here, it’s mostly a matter of luck to see them — some find them roaming around frequently, but I think right along the coast they’re not so common. Now that I think about it, the sandy soils may not be so likely to be filled with the kind of food they like, while your blackland prairie certainly would be.

      I’m home now, although I’m taking a houseguest up to the hill country this weekend. We surely could use some rain, and I hear the hill country’s even more dry. I guess we’ll find out.

      1. Drought conditions are not looking good. Some folks get an isolated shower here and there. It turned hot very quickly and that has made things really bad.

        Hope you and your guest have a great trip with new things to see. And photos to take, of course.

  22. Miss the robins here in California. Not quite so much as cardinals, but I do think of them regularly, and looked for them whenever I traveled east. Thanks.

    1. No cardinals in Cali? I’d never thought of that. I’m cardinal-rich here (although, for good or for ill, no Cardinal Richelieu). You certainly have your share of birds, though — especially those you featured in your recent post.

  23. I, too, remember Robins from Ohio childhood years, returning there for a few adult years. We always looked forward to their appearance as a sign Spring was coming to replace the long cold snowy icy winter. I’ve missed them here in the Southwest and Southern California where I’ve been so many years. Now, I enjoy the Mockingbirds.

    1. The mockingbirds are a fine substitute, there’s no question about that. Were it not for a certain nostalgia attached to the robins, I suppose I’d be perfectly happy with the songbirds that surround us here. And of course, while we look forward to spring, there isn’t quite the urgency we felt in Iowa, where those months of snow could become, at best, wearisome.

  24. Thanks for the link to the robin sounds. I had no idea they had so many calls and, yes, my dog is getting the warning call when he gets near a certain scrub. This past molnth I’ve been sitting on my back deck a hour in the early evening and I hear so many bird calls that I’ve become interested in their sounds.

    1. There are a few I can pick out immediately. The cardinals and mockingbirds are especially familiar; I even can identify the calls of their young. The little, twittery birds are harder. Chickadees and wrens I know, but the rest of “just sounds.” Of course the meadowlarks and red-winged blackbirds are easy to learn, since they often are visible when they sing and call. But you’re right — once we start paying attention, the curiosity begins to stir.

  25. The old saying comes to mind, “Spring will finally arrive after three snows on a robin’s tail”. Perhaps robins are nature’s way of telling us that things will get better, but not without setbacks.

    1. I’ve never heard that saying, but it’s perfect. And more than a few robins have had to shake that snow off their tails! I did read an article about robins surviving in Maine, and it was full of detail about how they do survive. It seems as though they’re well equipped to make it through as long as they have food, with even physiological differences to assure warm feet.

    1. I hadn’t thought of it, Jason, but you’re exactly right: we can see them living their lives, and so they become a part of ours. I do think that photo of the babies may be my favorite souvenir from my trip to visit family. It’s the sort of thing that never can be predicted, like a fasciated flower.

    1. Watching for the first robin was such an important part of our lives, too. When we saw it, there was great rejoicing — even if the next sighting was three weeks down the road!

  26. Love your first line, and the pic. Robins we have, lots of them, so I can share all the sentiment here. And Mary Oliver, one of my all time faves. Thanks for the post, Linda!

    1. Isn’t it fun when we find a bird we share, Arti? I’m glad you have robins. They’re such a charming bird, and perfectly suited to accompany us through the long summer days when we’re all eager to be outside and active. Mary Oliver, of course, is perfectly suited to capture their insouciance. I was delighted to find this poem which was new to me.

    1. It’s always worth taking time to look through Mary Oliver’s work, to see if she might have a few words for a given bit of the natural world. Usually, she does, and they’re often perfectly suited.

    1. I didn’t know the European robin until a friend from England sent me a Christmas card that showed one. I was surprised to see it called a ‘robin’ until I discovered our new world ancestors named ours after the old world species they were familiar with.

      I’m glad you enjoyed Oliver’s poem, too. She really is a treasure.

  27. In the UK our Robin is a much smaller bird – often referred to as Robin Red-Breast because of its bright orange-red chest. The rest of the bird is a rather shabby brown. Robins visit our garden regularly, they will often follow a gardener around hoping that the gardener will uncover a worm. They are most definitely one of the most loved of British birds.
    I love the poem – story-telling with a very strong visual feel to it.

    1. Your robin in the UK is a totally different species belonging to a different family. What happened was that early European settlers in North America, nostalgic for familiar birds perhaps, saw a bird with a red breast and called it a Robin. American Robin (Turdus migratorius) is in reality a thrush and is in the same family as your Eurasian Blackbird (Turdus merula). The Latin word “Turdus” means thrush.

      1. Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for confirming that settlers named our robin for the familiar bird from their former countries. When I first became interested in our native plants, I found a few similar naming practices. It’s yet one more reason to pay attention to those scientific names.

    2. I’ve never seen robins following a gardener, but it makes perfect sense that they’d do so. A variety of our insect eaters do the same thing, and even in the farm fields cattle egrets will follow equipment like mowers, picking up grasshoppers as they do.

      I’m not surprised that your robins are beloved, too. Many photos show them as I’ve heard them described: cheeky, inquisitive, and charming. Much of Oliver’s poetry has those qualities, as well — one reason they pair so well with images of the birds she ponders.

  28. I must not be outside at the right time to hear my robins. That, or I’ve not yet learned their call.

    We’ve been keeping our robins year round lately. Another sign, I presume, of global warming and climate change. I kind of miss spotting the first robin of spring.

    I occasionally throw out some mealworms for them, as they don’t ‘do’ feeders. They do like my birdbath. I’ve seen whole flocks out there, vying for a bathing spot. If I listen hard, I hear cries of “Who has the soap?” or “Where’s the guest towels?”

    1. I found this nice explanation of the robins’ various calls, with audio examples. I recognized a couple of the sounds immediately, but I hadn’t known what they signified.

      I’m sure the changing climate is affecting where and when the robins appear, but while reading about them, I found several accounts of them staying throughout the winter in places like Maine. I do remember them arriving in Iowa while the snows still were on the ground. It seems that if a good food source is around — like berries or other insects — they can make do. I was surprised when I took a good look at the photo of the adult robin with the worm to see that there’s a different insect on the end of the robin’s bill. I laughed at that. It reminded me of stacking appetizers on a toothpick at the buffet table: a cube of cheese or two, a chunk of ham, an olive.

  29. American Robin is a very underrated bird, probably simply on account of its familiarity. It is worthy of the attention of all of us, however. It is generally believed that the arrival of this species after the northern winter heralds the arrival of spring, but as winters become ever milder more and more of them do not move south and spend the entire year with us.

    1. I suppose it’s true that, in the case of the robin, famliarity doesn’t breed contempt as much as it breeds inattention. When I lived in the heart of robin territory, I enjoyed them, but I certainly didn’t appreciate them as I do now.

      On the other hand, there are new birds that signal spring on the upper Texas coast. Hearing the first call of a high-flying osprey returning to the lake is as thrilling as the first sight of a robin used to be.

  30. Ooooo, lovely. I have a chickadee poem sing their calls, but Mary Oliver and you have caught the warmth of robins….

    1. “Warmth” is just the right word. Robins do communicate a sense of warmth; they’re easy, comfortable birds, and their willingness to let us peek into their lives makes them even more appealing.

  31. Ahhh, robins! Yours may be larger but seem to behave as ours do. How melodic and persistent they are, true survivors. That poem is beautiful, as were your words, I did enjoy this post.xxx

    1. I do think one reason both robins delight us so is that they’re not at all shy. They’re fun to watch as they hop around the lawns, looking for worms, and even when they aren’t visible their songs are a reminder of their presence.

      We learned a couple of nursery rhymes about robins when we were kids, too. I found one from England that I don’t remember hearing, but it’s a fun one:

      A robin and a robin’s son
      Once went to town to buy a bun.
      They couldn’t decide on plum or plain,
      And so they went back home again.

  32. Thanks for the Mary Oliver poem. She often strikes me as having just the right turn on a phrase to draw you in. Thanks as well for the reflections on robins. Last year we had one build a nest in a hanging plant just on our back deck. It was so very fun to see the mother doing her thing, but it was also sad since she had two eggs, and only one hatched. But this, too, is life. When their time in the fern was done, they left behind a reminder of their presence and sorrow.

    1. One bit of technology I enjoy is the nest cam. You were lucky enough to have an actual nest to observe, but for those of us who don’t, it’s great fun to watch at a distance.

      Robins, wrens, and doves seem especially willing to build near humans; for years, we had a wren that choose an old bucket under the eaves of a cabin. One year, we took the bucket down, but there was a larger-than-wren-sized fuss put up, so we replaced the bucket and bought another to use.

    1. I don’t consider that a comedown at all. I love that happy little song, and still remember the first lines about the bird that “rocks in the treetops all day long, hoppin’ and a-boppin’ and singing his song.” For that matter, I’m still fond of “When The Red, Red Robin Comes Bob-bob-bobbin’ Along.” I remember singing that song to calm my nerves before a speech contest in Iowa City. It worked pretty well.

  33. I notice robins most in the spring, but they are busy in our woodlands in summer and autumn too. I have found them to be quite resilient in the spring months when we might still have a late blast of winter. I think they are overlooked by many birdwatchers simply because they are commonly seen. I love that you have showcased them here.

    1. I recently read that even in places like New England robins can survive the winters if they have enough food. It helped to explain how they manage to make it when they arrive in areas like yours and have to endure that last snowstorm or days of freezing temperatures.

      It didn’t occur to me until I posted these photos that I don’t often see robins highlighted. I suppose they’re like clover; they’re everywhere, and yet nearly invisible. Part of it may be that they don’t come to feeders, but I suspect you’re right that their very commonness leads to a certain disregard.

    1. Red leaves in the autumn and robin redbreast in the spring and summer — what a fine yard you must have!

      I thought of you during my recent travels to visit relatives. One night (I think I was in Arkansas) I came across a wonderful presentation about the Highline: its history, development, and rather substantial charms. I really didn’t know much about it, and was surprised to see it as part of PBS’s “Great Museums” series, but it was wonderful. If you haven’t seen the documentary, you can find it here. Now that I’ve found it, I’m going to watch it again.

  34. You just have got to love the Robin, such a friendly, cheerful little bird. What a wonderful poem and lovely images, a perfect pairing, Linda. The baby Robins are so precious. <3

    1. I was so happy to see them, and glad to have a chance to highlight them here. Like sunflowers, clover, bees, and sparrows, they’re one of those things that risk becoming invisible precisely because of their ubiquity. They are cheerful and friendly — and what could be more precious than that, in these days?

  35. Never having seen an American robin, it’s lovely to see your photos, and also to read Mary Oliver’s poem. Our robins are so different – little birds about the size of a house sparrow but plumper and with red feathers over most of their front. We had a sighting of our first baby robin of the year, just today. So it seems you and I have robin times galore, coming up. :)

    1. One of the things I most love about the internet is being able to share experiences with people around the world, often in real time — like our baby robins.

      For years, I assumed your robins and ours were the same, until an English friend sent a Christmas card with a picture of your robin on the front. “That’s no robin!” I thought — and then I found out that it was. The two birds are even in different families, but it seems probable that settlers here were homesick, and named the most similar bird they found after one from “the old country.” In any event, both are delightful.

      I’m glad you enjoyed Oliver’s poem. She’s so good at elevating the commonplace and “ordinary.”

      1. As far as I know, both our robins are part of the thrush family, though ours doesn’t look it! :) They are well known for adorning Christmas cards here (in fact, despite loving the bird, I sometimes get sick of seeing so many robin greeting cards at Christmas!) I haven’t yet worked out what sort of size your robins are in comparison with a blackbird, for instance (though I’m assuming your blackbirds are the same size as ours, maybe they’re not). I did listen to an American robin’s song recently and it’s very sweet. :) Ours has quite a large range of phrasing and a gorgeous (to my ear anyway) sort of liquid warble as part of it.

        1. You’re right that both birds used to be in the thrush family, but the taxonomists have made a change. The European robin (Erithacus rubecula) was formerly classified as a member of the thrush family (Turdidae) but is now considered to be an Old World flycatcher. It seems that DNA analysis and such have increased the number of changes being made. I don’t think I could keep up with them even if I felt the need, but now and then I do run into the changes when I’m trying to identify something, and changes usually are noted on good websites.

          As to size, I didn’t know, but now I do. Your blackbird is described as being 23.5 to 29 centimetres (9.25 to 11.4 in) in length, while our robin is shown as 9.l to 11 inches, so they’re almost exactly the same size.

          1. Oh dear, that means I’ve got to get a new version of our Bird Identification guide! ( for our garden birds, I use a book more than I use the internet, even though it’s drawings rather than photos. It has a huge amount of info but obviously now out of date. I’ll tell our little robins that they are now reclassified. They’ll doubtless say “is that with suet pellets or without?” :) And then there’s Troglodytes troglodytes….. which is a heck of a long name for such a tiny bird. Thanks for the size check on your robin and our blackbird.

  36. With your introduction, Linda, I only need to close my eayes and I can hear the birds and smell the scents. Fantastic pictures.
    Best,
    Pit

    1. Thanks so much, Pit. I was thrilled to manage the photo of the babies, especially, although I did laugh at the way the parent had the worm and the bug so neatly arranged on its beak. I love the robins for their songs, but I especially like their willingness to go about their business in such a way that we can observe them. They certainly aren’t shy!

  37. Such a lovely post, Linda, and celebration of our American Robin. I, too, love this bird, and especially their melodious and cheerful song. I enjoyed your words and photos so much, and Mary Oliver’s poem is sublime. She captures that command that robins have for reminding us of the exquisite beauty of life.

    1. It’s easy to become entranced by the exotic and (dare I say?) flashy birds of the world, but the robin’s so widely distributed, and so self-effacing, it seems to have insinuated itself into our collective memory of summers. Its song is lovely, and it certainly is willing to perform long hours at a time. I’m glad you enjoyed my tribute, and of course Mary Oliver’s poem, too. She has such a gift for capturing and elevating the ordinary.

  38. You are a bird nerd rockstar! I adore you already and of course I, too, love those beautiful robins! Thank you so very much for finding my site. I’m so thrilled to meet a feather fanatic and beautiful blogger in my neck of the woods!

    1. I’m not exactly a bird nerd; while I enjoy them, and spend time watching them, I’ll never have a life list, and I don’t even own a pair of binoculars. But they are delightful, and anyone who spends any time at all outdoors is going to run into them, so I figure I might as well learn about them. I have enjoyed posting bird-related poetry when I find a new species. It’s amazing how many poets and writers have spent their own time and energy on appreciating those feathered bundles of energy and song.

      1. I always liked birds, but I never focused on taking photographs of them and I certainly never kept a list. Until we moved… We have trees now! Real live trees and not just the same thing that every developer in a zillion mile radius puts in front of every house nowadays. I just never realized how close I was to countless species, and the other wildlife has been fascinating, too. It has opened up a totally different (and totally nerdy) set of interests for us. Geeky? Oh yes. But still quite fun. ;)

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