26 March 2013

Comparing Historic and Current Spring Arrival of Robins

Some of the first records for spring arrival of various species in the Missouri River valley area of Nebraska,
provide details useful in comparison to the modern era.

Map of features in the lower Platte River area in 1857.

Dr. Albert Lyman Child arrived in Nebraska in April 1857, being the third settler in the Louisville Precinct of Cass County, Nebraska, and west of the Missouri River. The next spring, among his many other endeavors, during this time on the frontier, he recorded the first arrival of robins in the spring. The date was March 22nd.

His interest in birds, locusts and weather continued for many years. Initial observations occurred at the country place at the Glendale farm, then continued once the current family moved to Plattsmouth in the autumn of 1869.

A.L. Child was a descendant of a family with its America origins started in 1630, at Massachusetts. He was born in 1810 in Rochester, Vermont. Mr. Child was a robust man. His first child was from a marriage to Margaret Tozier. They had several children, from August 1834 to December 1843. Then there was a son Harry Preston birthed by Rebecca Coates Child in October 1848 at Clermont Phalanx Ohio. The last of his kids was Julia E. Child, from a union with Eliza Hampton Child, born in November 1850 at Walnut Hills, Ohio.

Child Family coat of arms. "Imitari quam invidere" translation is: "To imitate rather than to envy"

There were no more infants once A.L. Child arrived in Nebraska. He was living with Cora W. Child — apparently his fourth wife? — and two children Everett (18) and Julia, in association with the Glendale Post-office, according to the 1860 census. After he moved to Plattsmouth and became a probate judge, he was living with Cora W., who was keeping house. The other inhabitant was daughter Julia E. Child. The name indicated in association with both census records is not Child, but Childs.

Dr. Child was a communicator. His meteorological records extend from 1866-1882, and were presented to the Nebraska Historical Society for prosperity's sake, in 1887 when he was living in Kansas City.

He was involved with the U.S. Signal Corps, and conveyed weather commentary.

A report he issued in 1875 indicated a humongous swarm of Rocky Mountain locusts passed over Plattsmouth for five days, and effort and observations indicated its extent as 1800 miles long and 110 miles wide.

These are some details not included in the Nebraska bird journal. Mr. Child contributed commentary to other publications, including Popular Science Daily. He was the author of the "Centennial History of Plattsmouth City" which was issued in 1877.

As to robins. The average date of arrival was julian date 74 or 75 which would be mid-March. These are each of the dates reported. Those through 1869 were at the Glendale location between Plattsmouth and Louisville, a short distance south of the Platte River.










4/20/1867 * latest date








2/3/1877 * earliest date on record



present throughout winter of 1880



There are details on the weather conditions also available, with some particulars given in Dr. Wolcott's article.

In 2013, the American Robin had been present from January 3rd, and intermittently to the current time now at the end of March among the environs of eastern Omaha. Snow-covered ground and cold temperatures have certainly been a challenge. There have been multitudes at Memorial Park, and on a most recent Monday, on the south side of the Strauss building on the campus of the University of Nebraska, Omaha. In comparison, at past times, they would not have even been present.

There is no longer some so-called spring arrival. This species can occur most any time throughout the year, if an observer is looking at a suitable place. This spring, the birds have appreciated crab-apple trees. In the neighborhood, one or two have been loitering beneath a bird-feeder, unusually eating seeds and at times, seemingly dormant among the situation. Obviously they have relied on seed upon the ground as a ready source of food, as well as other species have.

The difference in arrival date is obvious. It is the details of the historic records which are so important, as they are an obvious indication of the value chronicles kept by A.L. Child, a pioneer of Nebraska in many ways.