The Poets’ Birds ~ The Red, Red Robins


Nothing sings Spring like a Robin, and nothing pleases me more than a Robin-rich season. Whether celebrating a first sighting, laughing over their antics as they try to pull worms from half-frozen ground, or luxuriating in their melodious song at sunrise and sunset, there’s something about their comfortable presence that evokes a sense of home.

Larks and nightingales play prominent roles in poetry, but robins have been celebrated as well. A member of the Thrush family, American Robins (Turdus migratorius) received their common name because of their resemblance to the British Robin (Erithacus rubecula), a smaller bird in the Chat family. Both birds are known for their pretty red breasts, and both are regarded with affection.

Emily Dickinson might have been watching a flighty bird like the one shown above when she wrote:

The Robin is the One
That interrupt the Morn
With hurried—few—express Reports
When March is scarcely on—
The Robin is the One
That overflow the Noon
With her cherubic quantity—
An April but begun—
The Robin is the One
That speechless from her Nest
Submit that Home—and Certainty
And Sanctity, are best

Observant and reflective as ever, Mary Oliver celebrated the Robin in her poem, “Such Singing in the Wild Branches.”

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
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.

Of course, the writers we call poets aren’t the only ones capable of celebrating the world and its creatures with rhythm and rhyme; singers and songwriters do the same. In 1926, Harry Woods wrote both words and music for a little gem called “When The Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along.”

Introduced by Sophie Tucker and later popularized by Al Jolson, it became a 1956 hit for Bing Crosby, and part of our family’s standard sing-along repertoire on road trips. Catchy and fun, it’s a perfect song for spring, and a perfect tribute to one of my favorite birds.

When the red, red robin comes bob, bob, bobbin’ along, along, There’ll be no more sobbin’ when he starts throbbin’ his old sweet song.
Wake up, wake up, you sleepy head! Get up, get up, get out of bed!Cheer up, cheer up, the sun is red! Live, love, laugh, and be happy.
What if I ‘ve been blue?Now I’m walkin’ through fields of flowers. Rain may glisten but still I listen for hours and hours.
I’m just a kid again, doin’ what I did again, singin’ a song ,When the red, red robin comes bob, bob, bobbin’ along.
What if I ‘ve been blue?Now I’m walkin’ through fields of flowers. Rain may glisten but still I listen for hours and hours.
I’m just a kid again, doin’ what I did again, singin’ a song, When the red, red robin comes a-bob, bob, bobbin’ ,When the red, red robin comes bob, bob, bobbin’ along.

Comments always are welcome.

108 thoughts on “The Poets’ Birds ~ The Red, Red Robins

  1. This is a delightful post! Your robin belongs to the same family – and looks fairly similar to – our Olive Thrush (Turdus olivaceous) which visits our garden throughout the year. Bing Crosby … now that song shook decades off me!

  2. What fun! I can see why you enjoy them appearing in numbers. Again, while completely different, from that stance you can tell that our redwings (Turdus iliacus) are closely related.

    1. When I looked at photos of your redwing, the resemblance was obvious, especially the shape of the body. It’s always fun to have readers from other parts of the world chime in with mentions of related birds. Such variety we have!

  3. I don’t know from robins at the moment. I see them occasionally on my way to where I park my car. But right now, the tree next to my window is a dove hangout. Males have apparently already staked out their territory and I’m learning to sleep through who-WHO-who-who-who belted out at the top of little birdy lungs.

    1. A few days ago, a mockingbird decided it was time to announce his presence, and it’s been non-stop since — beginning about 4 a.m. I’ve heard a few doves cooing, but this morning it was a cardinal that joined the choir. It’s such pleasure to have birdsong back again; combined with increasing numbers of flowers, it’s a real affirmation of spring.

    1. It’s a delightful tune that certainly makes good use of rhyme. That probably helps to explain why it was so easily memorized, and why the lyrics have stayed in my mind for over sixty years.

    1. He was one of the best, and one of my favorites. Sinatra might have been at the top of the heap when it came to crooners, but Crosby and Perry Como are the ones whose songs I best remember.

  4. And then of course there is that quite different creature – the English robin. Or I should say the robin found in England. The bird that loves the garden and is most often depicted on Christmas cards and when caged puts all heaven in a rage.

    “I’m man’s inedible
    Permanent bird.
    I dine in his garden,
    My spoon is his spade.”

    from ‘Robin’s Round’ by UA Fanthorpe

    1. I’d never heard of U.A. Fanthorpe, but I loved the snippet of her poem, and finally found the entire text read on YouTube.

      I still have the Christmas card from British friends that was adorned with one of their robins. I thought it was one of the most charming birds I’d ever seen, even though it took me a while to figure out the Robin/Robin relationship. Another Britisher, a blogger I follow, had one appear in his garden and then take up residence. The blogger named the bird Nugget, and for months he’d publish photos of his impressively tangled garden, asking “Where’s Nugget?” Nugget finally disappeared, but Nugget, Jr. took up residence, to the great delight of all.

  5. Always a treat to see robins, those lovely harbingers of spring. Unfortunately, they are not frequent visitors to our yard by the edge of the woods. I think they prefer more open areas.

    1. Their preferences are a little mysterious to me. I have a friend who’s overrun with them right now, while I’ve yet to see one around my place. I suppose it’s related to their preferred foods; our place is manicured to death, and that probably means far fewer insects. Since we don’t have any berry-laden plants either, there’s no reason for the robins to hang around. Of course, their relative absence in my neighborhood makes every sighting even more precious.

    1. I heard them last weekend, in the trees at the entrance to the Brazoria refuge. I never could spot them, even though they sounded quite close. My friend in the country sees them regularly, as she has a pond, some trees, and quite a bit of growth along her fencelines. The last ones I saw were at her place: fat and sassy, for sure.

    1. Car-singing’s great fun. I have a friend who enjoys it as much as I do, and since we’re of the same era, we can amuse ourselves for a good while, trying to come up with “moon songs,” “sailing songs,” or “sky songs.” Say what you will about the old-fashioned songs of that earlier era, they were as well suited for participation as for performance.

  6. Robins outnumbered cedar waxwings the last time I saw feeding on the yaupon fruit outside my window.

    Songwriter Harry Wood didn’t ring a bell so I looked him up. Turns out he was also the sole or joint creator of “Side by Side,” “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover,” “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain,” and “Try a Little Tenderness.”

    1. Maybe the waxwings were visiting Tina’s pond — or perhaps the robins had driven them off. They can be as feisty as a mockingbird or bluejay.

      I didn’t realize Harry Wood had written so many of my favorite songs. One of his, “Side by Side”was given new life when it was included in the film Kit Kittredge: An American Girl. What’s just as much fun is the way groups like Post-Modern Jukebox have redone some of today’s hits. The Spice Girls done in the style of the Andrews Sisters is unexpected and completely enjoyable.

    1. Oddly (or maybe not), my first thought was of Charlie “Bird” Parker. He never played a song dedicated to the robins as far as I know, but he did a fine job memorializing the season they’re most associated with.

  7. When I saw the title of your post, it was the song that first came to mind. Last week Rick and I saw a whole platoon of robins — probably ten of them — on my front lawn. I’ve never seen them here so early, and it’s a little disturbing, and yet so welcome. I loved both of the poems!

    1. Believe it or not, your area’s in the part of the country where robins are year-round residents. Here, we see them from about November-March; they’re a winter bird for us. They tend to go where the food is, of course, so I imagine their presence up there is variable. On the other hand, I remember seeing them in Iowa in March, grubbing around in the snow for their dinner.

    1. It’s hard to pull worms out of frozen ground, that’s for sure! With spring making its presence felt here, I have to remind myself that it is still February, and winter’s not going to release its hold in your part of the world for a while. Still, you’ve given us some lovely — and for us, unusual — views of wintery landscapes that are beautiful in different ways.

    1. Our robin can be feisty, but given what I’ve read of yours, a conflict between the two species might be interesting. Your Natural History Museum puts it this way: “The robin might seem cute, but it is actually a highly territorial bird and will aggressively defend its domain against others.” Noted!

  8. Haven’t seen any of those harbingers of spring here yet, but I’m keeping my eyes wide open for their return. Of course, I remember that song so well, and thanks to you and Bing, I now have it stuck in my head.

    1. Then we’ve traded earworms! It just occurred to me that your red amaryllis and my red, red robin each have a catchy tune associated with them. I don’t think there’s any deep meaning to that, but it is fun.

      1. Sharing earworms has been fun! And uplifting too. Songs, especially those with catchy tunes, always stick in my mind. I used to play a “game” with a co-worker. We’d say a word and one of us would try to burst out in a song with that word before the other person.

    1. I had to look up the Melaleuca tree; that’s an interesting one. When I saw that one common name is ‘paperbark tree,’ I wondered if there might be insects under or on the bark that would appeal to the robins. While the birds are shown as year-round residents in much of California, it seems they’re considered winter birds in the southern part of the state, which might explain your rare sightings of them.

    1. Any robin that tried to pull a worm from your lawn would be disappointed, for sure. I’d never thought about that particular downside, and it made me laugh. I’m glad you’re getting to see them, anyway. They are a cheerful bird.

  9. I’ve seen all sorts of robins already, and each one is a delight. Not that Monkey thinks so. No, his idea of fun is to race out the door to the back yard, flush out a bunch of birds (robins or whatnot), and chase them as they fly upward to freedom! Thank goodness, they’re too fast for him. I shudder at the thought of him actually catching one.

    1. It’s time for me to stop running the country and catch up with all things computer related! Is Monkey a breed that sometimes is used as a bird dog? Or does he just enjoy the chase? I can’t imagine him ever catching one. I have a neighbor who lets her cats roam, and those cats have been trying to catch birds every time they get out. So far, the birds have avoided them, too — thank goodness. The only creatures that seem able to snag one of my doves or or sparrows are the hawks. Of course, hawks need to eat, too.

      1. Monkey just loves the chase! I hope he never catches anything. A Sheltie is a herding dog, used to work livestock (which we don’t have — hence, the thrill of the chase!)

        1. That’s right! He’s a Sheltie. I’d forgotten his breed, and now that you mention that they’re herding dogs, that explains it. I’m sure you told me that before, and I forgot. Herding dogs will herd anything around; my hill country friend has a Great Pyrenees that herds her cats.

  10. We have some Robins that overwinter in eastern IA. By now, they look hungry. The crabapple tree in the cul-de-sac circle was laden with old fruit. Recently, I saw a flock of Robins and Cedar Waxwings attack it, devouring the fruit.

    1. It’s interesting to me that I’ve never seen robins and waxwings together, and I don’t remember ever seeing the Cedar Waxwings until I moved to Texas. I wonder if there’s some change happening with their territories, or if I simply didn’t notice in the past. That’s entirely possible!

  11. I first saw your post Bing Crosby’s wonderful voice popped into my head!
    Then I was reminded that I’ve yet to see the flock of migrating Robins that appear annually and roost in the Ivey covered trees outside my 3rd floor sunroom and feed on the Ivey berries for a few days.
    Thanks for the poems!

    Robert “Red” Penn Warren wrote a lot of poems about birds and I wondered if he had written on about Robins. I didn’t find one on Robins, but I found this one about geese and I think one could substitute in Robins and the poem still works.

    Tell Me A Story

    Long ago, in Kentucky, I, a boy, stood
    By a dirt road, in first dark, and heard
    The great geese hoot northward.
    I could not see them, there being no moon
    And the stars sparse. I heard them.
    I did not know what was happening in my heart.
    It was the season before the elderberry blooms,
    Therefore they were going north.
    The sound was passing northward.

    1. Not a problem at all; I just tidied things up a bit. I really enjoyed that Robert Penn Warren poem. It’s a new one for me, and you’re right that it works for robins, too.

    1. Isn’t it something, the way a snatch of song can open up so many memories? And you’re right; this song is one that tends to linger, at least for those of us who were around in its heyday. I suppose it’s a combination of a bouncy, singable tune and memorable rhyming words. It’s a pleasure to remember, that’s for sure.

  12. When I’m out walking in winter, I hear birds mumuring quietly. Now that it’s warming up, in particular when it’s sunny, the murmuring turns to full-throated song from cardinals, Carolina wrens, and other birds. It’s quite a moment, if not the “soft and solemn and perfect music” in Mary Oliver’s poem. Thanks for the post!

    1. This past week, we’re suddenly hearing birdsong: cardinals, doves, mockingbirds. The mockingbirds always make me smile. I have one near my place that seems to think 4 a.m. is exactly the right time to sing. The sooner he finds a girlfriend, the better!

      There’s a large, twittering bunch of birds migrating through now; either that, or they’re arriving for the summer. I think they might be starlings, but I haven’t had a chance to get a good, close look at them yet.

  13. Wow, that Mary Oliver poem is a knockout. I’m always amazed when I see the first robins here, when the ground is usually still frozen and all the earthworms are still sacked out below the frostline.

    1. That poem is one of my favorites of hers — which is really saying something, since I like so many. I remember seeing robins in snow. If a bird could have a puzzled expression on its face, those did!

  14. As I sit here in Montana with snow, wind, and below Zero temperatures, I am suddenly feeling sunshine. I can hear those robins singing to me….and I love it! Thanks for reminding me that Spring will be here soon! I love that song and Bing..did make me feel like a kid again.

    1. Our redbuds are blooming now, and the azaleas are popping out all over. We’re close to the beginning of serious pollen season now — it won’t be long until we’ll be griping about the heat and humidity! I hope your spring doesn’t dally, and that it’s a nice, mild one when it arrives.

    2. Like you, I love the sound of robins. When I was a kid — and even longer — listening to them in the mornings and evenings was part of the soundtrack of my life. I’ll confess that even now, without any robins around to listen to, I’ll sometimes put on a youtube video of their chirps, calls, and songs. It’s not a bad substitute.

  15. Mary Oliver is one of my favorite poets ever. We have not seen any Robins yet though I have heard a RedWinged Blackbird!

    Am going to unfollow and Re follow to see if I can get our communication back in order.

    1. Just today, I happened upon a flock of red-winged blackbirds coming in. The migrations seems to be in full swing now; the comings and goings are happening all around us. I suddenly realized this week that many of the osprey are gone, as are the white pelicans and the sandhill cranes. In exchange, we’ll be getting another of my favorites: the scissor-tailed flycatcher. There’s always something new to enjoy!

      I think I have things sorted on my end now. Again, so good to see you!

  16. Another fantastic and timely essay!

    This has been a banner year for migrating American Robins. For the past two weeks, we have encountered flocks of a dozen to nearly one hundred. Like John above, they are often in the company of Cedar Waxwings.

    Gini and I have been singin’ with Bing as we go bob-bob-bobbin’ along.
    Spring is near!

    (I am inspired, although not talented. Apologies to poets and readers.)

    In the Spring
    Cheerily chase
    The shadows and gloom
    Of wintry hobgoblins
    From our doorsteps and forests.
    They usher in the Sun and Blooms.
    With their bright song our spirits renew.
    The first Robins of Spring make me smile more.

    1. There’s no need to apologize for your poems. After all, do we expect the robins to apologize for their songs? Of course not. Exuberance and good feelings need to be expressed, one way or another. If poetry and song aren’t enough, we always could invite the mockingbirds to join in. I have one that’s been ending every song with that characteristic bouncy flight into the air from the top of his tree; it’s obviously just for the joy of it — and maybe a bit of showing off. In spring, that’s allowed, too!

    1. That’s a perfect description of them: guileless. They seem to enjoy being around humans, too — or at least they tolerate us enough to sit in our trees and sing.

  17. Linda, thank you for sharing information about robins and introducing us to a new classic song. I’m new to bird identification and don’t think I’ve seen a robin in our area. I’ll keep a keen eye out for them.
    I remember the robin in “The Secret Garden.”
    Enjoyed listening to the new song with my daughter.

    1. The nice thing about robins is that they’re relatively large, they’re willing to hop around in the open, and those bright red breasts are unmistakable. In fact, we commonly called them ‘robin redbreasts’ when I was a kid. I hope you get to see them one day. You might, as they’ve been spotted in San Diego by the thousands, and as they move north, they may well travel through your area.

      1. I’m going to keep an eye out for the robins! I’ll tell my kids the robin’s characteristics; they’re good observers when we’re out and spot chickadees, woodpeckers, and ruby throated hummingbirds.
        Once the rain ends, hopefully a nearby pond that was drained due to the drought will be be up and running again. Hopefully!

  18. Our robins are a joy here in the UK too. I love the part of Mary Oliver’s poem where it seems as if the rest of nature is singing along with the robin – a precious moment of feeling united with the whole of nature. (As we are really.)

    1. A hymn I grew up with contains the lines, “All nature sings, and ’round me rings the music of the spheres.” I often think of that when I’m reading Oliver — especially a poem like this. I think your robins are just as cute, although it seems they’re a bit feistier. Ours apparently were named after yours, by the early colonists who came here from England. I’m surprised no one’s mentioned the old, old children’s rhyme called “Who Killed Cock Robin?” How that became part of my childhood I can’t say, but it’s got quite an interesting history.

  19. There you are! You have such a wonderful active comments community I had to read through your comments before I got to make my own turn I forgot what I was going to say!!


    Birds are coming!! C

    1. The birds sure are coming. On the other hand, some of them seem to be dallying here a bit, like the sandhill and whooping cranes. Perhaps they got the weather reports from up north and decided to hang out in the warmth for a while!

  20. I so enjoyed this celebration of the American Robin, Linda. The two lovely poems, your narrative, and Bing Crosby’s rich voice. I also love the image of you and your family singing about the robin on road trips. Lovely post.

    1. Travel by car used to be pure delight: and for me, it still is. Every now and then a friend who knows songs from “our era” comes along, and we still sing. It’s better than everyone staring at a screen. It seems to me that Robins, Cardinals, and Waxwings are the special American birds, in the sense that even people who aren’t in any sense ‘birders’ recognize and admire them.

    1. That’s the way it was in Iowa, too. When the robins showed up, even if there still was snow on the ground, we knew it wouldn’t be that long before the mud and flowers showed up!

  21. The second bird pic is perfecto in dof I think!! I love your Poet’s birds series. Seems awfully fun to find poems and lyrics that were inspired by particular avian species!! I like the continuity of the idea.

    1. This may amuse you. That photo you like was taken from my desk, through a window. The bird was sitting on the edge of the water bowl I keep filled on my patio railing. Sometimes, the best shots are closer at hand than we imagine.

      1. That is absolutely true. Even with everglades trips, so often what you see on the side of a dirt road going through is no different than if you hike for 8 miles in. The hike serves an entirely different purpose really probably along the lines of simply being solitary and immersed.

  22. I think I have enjoyed the red robin with you before, but once is not enough. I’ve seen red cardinals this spring but no robins. Maybe I need to “wake up, wake up, you sleepy head; get up, get up, get out of bed” by robin time.

    1. If some robins show up in my yard again, you can bet that you’ll see them on my blog again. I do love the birds: partly for the memories they evoke, and partly for their perkiness and chatter when they’re around. And of course there are the human songs that celebrate them. My mother sang constantly; my dad wasn’t so inclined. But in the car, he always was willing to join in, and when I hear this song, I hear his voice, as well.

  23. Remember?
    Little Robin Redbreast
    Little Robin Redbreast sat upon a tree.
    Up went pussycat and down went he.
    Down came pussycat, away Robin ran,
    Says little Robin Redbreast, “Catch me if you can!”

    Little Robin Redbreast jumped upon a spade.
    Pussycat jumped after him, and then he was afraid.
    Little Robin chirped and sang and what did pussy say?
    Pussycat said “Meow, meow, meaow!”, and Robin flew away.

    1. Oneta, I’ve never heard that nursery rhyme. It’s great — it reminded me of the ‘eensy-weensy spider’ that went up the waterspout. Our stories are poems were so great!

  24. Just popped over from Cecelias’s kitchen garden. I love this post. We live on the other side of the world and so we’re in autumn going into winter. I love autumn with its promise of wonderful colours all around us. I’m not particularly keen on winter but we have a very temperate climate here in New Zealand and so it never gets really cold. We moan and put on extra sweaters if it gets to 10°. So different from the time I spent in Montréal and before that in Glasgow Scotland. I love reading the comments in my posts Though I don’t post as often as I used to, I look forward to reading my readers reaction to whatever I have shared from this Ancient mind. I will be back to learn more about you.

    1. One of the great enjoyments of blogging has been getting to know so many people from New Zealand and Australia. I’ll confess that it sometimes leaves me feeling a little off kilter as I do the mental calculations necessary to remember which season and which hour you’re experiencing, but I’m becoming more proficient. When all else fails, there’s the world clock on my phone.

      I laughed at your comment about ‘winter’ moaning. It’s the same here on the Texas coast, although a good number of us always enjoy a cold snap or two, so we can wear our sweaters.

      Thanks so much for stopping by for a visit. You’re always welcome here.

  25. We sometimes have a robin or a dozen overwintering but we do know spring is on the way once their numbers become larger over one night or another. Lately I’ve been seeing more so we know it is just a matter of time and, of course, it is here on Tuesday.
    That second shot is a fine portrait.
    Yes, “When the red, red robin comes bob, bob, bobbin’ along” was always a family singalong.

    1. I suspect it won’t be long for you now. I’m seeing a lot of migratory birds — huge groups, in some instances. I think it was brown-headed cowbirds that visited last week by the hundreds. I discovered completely empty feeders one morning, and not a seed on the ground. I was ready to blame my possum, and refilled things. It took a nanosecond for those birds to show up again; then they were gone. They only lingered for a couple of days, but it was exciting to see them. I’ve seen great flocks of some sort of duck flying high, too. Our white pelicans are gone now; once I see a scissor-tailed flycatcher, I’ll know that real spring has arrived.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.