18 August 2009

Early Season Scouts of the Red-breasted Robin - Leaves from the Notebook of an Old Nature Student

By Sandy Griswold.

Even though the limbs of the trees are still bare and all the country, far flung in all directions, dour and drab, the flowers of the elms, the buds of the cottonwoods, and the maples, have begun to swell, and the ashes and the lindens are dawning an all but intangible film of promise, we know that robin time is all but at hand and that the red-breasted battalions, with golden trumpets and atune, are rapidly marching our way.

The Redbreasted Scouts.

Already the reconnoitering scouts have been seen, swooping low over the ground, or perched silent on housetop or tree, waiting only the mandate of the winds to signal onward their mighty followers.

And what a joyous boon it is to all mankind the coming of this darling bird, and more so this spring than usual, as few of them, not withstanding the almost utter absence of the roistering weather of the season, lingered with us beyond an uncommonly early period in autumn's reign.

When They Leave Us.

In a single night, in mid-October, these birds seemed to disappear absolutely to the last bird and despite the frequent sorties I have made during winter months, not a single bird have I seen, when in former years, even in the severest of weather I have found them not isolated and alone, but at times in considerable flocks. The season now so rapidly flitting away, was most peculiar in this respect, for not even a number of visits to regions where they were always to be found, if anywhere, especially up in the thick woods and tangly ravines which spread out in such wonderful expansion along both the upper and lower roads between the city and the legendary old village of Calhoun, and midway between the two, were not rewarded by even a floating feather or the memory of a chirp. All had gone as completely as those of more delicate nature, the orioles, the swallows, and the swarms of warblers.

Tomtits, bluejays and cardinals were always more or less in evidence, but not a robin and there is none to deny, so far as I have been able to hear, but that redbreast made a cleaner exit last October than for any fall in many, many years.

Watchful Waiting.

There is the one potential fact that accounts for the watchful waiting among those who love this homely, yet beautiful, little visitant of our dooryards, that has been so marked all through the month of February for the first symptoms of their return. And now that, at least the forerunners of the hordes soon to follow, are here, we are all glad and all supremely thankful. It will not make much difference, however, it Old Boreas does indulge to one of his tantrums, the robins are coming, and in full force, all will soon be here.

And what about this wondrous little feathered enchantress, anyway? Merula migratoria, is the outlandish title scientifically bestowed upon the bird, the most beloved of all our dooryard friends.

Facts About the Robin.

Considering the fact that we all know Robin Redbreast so familiarly, he still strikes some benighted persons as trite and commonplace, so vast is the ignorance about even this most familiar of all the little visitors at our homes, our woods and our fields, our gardens, and backyards, that a few facts will no hurt a bit, but, on the contrary, be warmly welcomed by the wise as well as the foolish.

In the first place our robin is not a robin a robin at all, but properly is the redbreasted thrush, but resembling greatly the true English robin redbreast, the name for a lack of a better one, way back in the days the Pilgrim fathers, was bestowed upon the bird that we all love so well, and has become a favorite all over the land. And it was in those early times, also, that the hare became the rabbit, the grouse the prairie chicken or hen, and they will, in all probability, remain down to the end of time.

Why the robin is such an obsession among the bird lovers of this country is because it is the most confidential and the friendliest of all our common little dooryard beauties, not even excepting chickadee or cedarbird. And yet it is hardier than most of the confreres, and in some localities is regarded as much of a winter as it is a summer bird.

The Sort He Is.

Another reason for the robin's popularity is that it is a many-sided bird, much more so than any of those of gaudier plumage. Even before the bloodroot begins to illumine the sodden leaves, in these March days, or before the soft, mournful yet sweet purling call of the bluebird falls from the vernal skies, or the liquid plaint of the killdeer comes to us from the low wet places, we have days of delightful comradeship with homely little redbreast.

About here, the first nest-making starts in April. And they invariably raise two broods and sometimes three, every season - almost, invariably, four to a brood. And their eggs are a light greenish blue, very exquisite and very delicate. And from every angle and every detail it is one of the finest little songsters of all avian creation.

An Evening Denizen.

Where the orange arils of the bittersweet still light up our leafless but budding groves, all about the city of Omaha, the first thrill of his homely arietta sends a holier feeling swaying in the bearers heart. And when the snowy and pink involucre of the apple trees brighten the massing green, and the flute-like tones of the catbird have been added to the feathered orchestra, it is really heavenly to linger in your dooryard at eventide, and delight your soul with little redbreast's goodnight carrolings.

March 11, 1928. Sunday World-Herald 63(24): 15-W. Leaves from the Notebook of an Old Nature Student.

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