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Minnesota Outdoors: 'Rockin Robin' comes to mind while watching fall migration

Submitted by Blane Klemek
Crookston Times

    Believe it or not, and as silly as this is going to seem, I was reminded of a song as waves of migrating robins flushed in front of me while I strolled through my backyard a few mornings ago.

    “He rocks in the treetops all day long

    Hoppin' and a-boppin' and singing his song

    All the little birds on Jaybird Street

    Love to hear the robin go tweet-tweet-tweet

    Rockin' robin, (tweet-tweet-tweet)

    Rock-rock-rockin' robin' (tweet-tweedilly-tweet)

    Go rockin' robin 'cause we're really gonna rock tonight (tweet-tweedilly-tweet)”

    And now the next time you observe the same thing—large flocks of robins—you can thank yours truly for putting the tune and words into your head. Forever.

    Indeed, American robins, a bird familiar to everyone, are gathering in large numbers most everywhere to feed heavily on autumn’s bounty of soft mast and other high protein foods as they prepare for their migration southward. In my yard and property are an abundance of crab apples, nannyberries, dogwood berries, and other goodies that birds such as robins gorge themselves on every fall.

    American robins are related to thrushes, bluebirds, and others such as the veery and species that don’t occur in Minnesota like Townsend’s solitaire, bluethroat, Siberian rubythroat, fieldfare, and northern wheatear. All are primarily insect and fruit eaters, but will also eat seeds. Additionally, American robins have as relatives the rufous-backed robin, clay-colored robin, redwing, and Eurasian blackbird.

    Belonging to an obviously large family of birds (Turdidae), Minnesota is home to most of the thrush species, but only one of the so-named robin species and one of the three bluebird species. Interestingly, the young of all members of this family of passerines, aka perching birds, have spotted breasts. Interesting, too, is the fact that only robins and bluebirds migrate during the daytime, which is why of course we notice these so-called “waves” of migrating robins during spring and fall migration periods. All other members of the family migrate at night, as do most songbirds actually.

    I’m struck by the fact that American robins, as familiar as they are in our backyards in both rural and urban settings, is paradoxically just as at home in the wilderness. This latter fact has always fascinated me whenever I encounter robins in places like the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness or deep within the Colorado Rockies. It would be interesting to know if a robin that hatched and fledged in Minneapolis would be just as apt to nest the next spring somewhere north of Ely. In any event, American robins, as “domestic” as they might appear in some inner city neighborhood, are wild and free ranging birds that are comfortable living nearly anywhere.

    In fact, American robins are found almost everywhere in North America. In Alaska, in every Canadian Province, and in every state in the contiguous United States. The only places that American robins do not inhabit are the northernmost reaches of Alaska, Canada, and the Hawaiian Islands. The species also ranges throughout Mexico and Central America. Widespread to say the least!

    It's routine that American robins in northern Minnesota will raise two broods per nesting season, and often raising even three broods. What’s especially endearing about American robins is that they frequently will nest near our houses, on our houses, and sometimes even inside of buildings and other structures.

    For the past several summers robins have been nesting inside of my old two-stall, dirt floor, open-door garage. Last summer a pair raised two broods out of a nest built on a beam between the two doors. This year a pair, maybe even the same pair, build a nest on top of the breaker box. Curiously, this same pair raised their second brood this summer out of last year’s nest.  I sure enjoyed checking on them from time to time whenever I used the garage for something.

    American robins are gathering once again for their annual migration. While they won’t be all that far away when they leave us, we can rest assured that waves of robins will be back again next spring as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.