Robin Watch

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It’s spring! Have you seen a robin yet? All through North America, the arrival of robins is a sure sign of spring. Check your outside thermometer and your yard. If daytime temperatures are above freezing, you should see your first robin soon.

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Arrival
Males always arrive first. Don’t worry if you have a few days of ice and snow after the robins come. Male robins can live through spring storms. Female robins can’t survive for long in freezing weather because their bodies are working to produce eggs. That’s why the males always arrive first.

Each male robin looks for a good spot to build a nest and raise young. He claims that territory and defends it against all the other males who are looking for a place to call home.
Keep your eyes open for single robins checking out your yard. You’ll see them poking around here and there. You may even see robins pushing each other around. Those are males sorting out their territories.

Keep your ears open too—males sing to claim their territories. To find out what robin songs sound like, visit www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/robin/Vocalizations.html

Nesting
Has a robin claimed your yard as its territory? Has he found a mate?

Robins have two basic requirements when they’re on the lookout for just the right spot to build a nest. First, it should provide a solid support for the nest—a tree branch, a rafter, or even a window box meant for flowers. Second, it must be a slightly sunny spot. Robin chicks require a little bit of sun every day so that their bodies can make Vitamin D.

Once the robin parents find the perfect spot to build a nest, you’ll see them flying around with twigs in their beaks. If you watch closely, you might even see them gathering mud from a puddle to keep the nest together.

As the robins fly back and forth building the nest, they learn the area. You should never move their nest—they might not be able to find it. Think of it this way: If someone moved your house to a different part of the city, how would you know where to find it?

Delicate Eggs
If you watch closely, you’ll know when the female has laid her eggs—usually no more than three or four. You’ll see one of the adults on the nest almost all the time.

Here’s what the eggs need in order to hatch:

  • a very constant temperature
  • high humidity
  • a gentle turn every day

If any one of these three conditions is missing, the eggs won’t hatch. Adult robins do just the right things to make sure the eggs hatch. They sit on the eggs just long enough and gently roll each egg every day.

Did You Know?
The color robin egg blue is an official Crayola color. In the early 1990s, the crayon was originally included in Crayola boxes without a name. Purchasers were asked to submit ideas for the color's name.

Tending the Chicks
After the eggs have hatched, watch carefully. You’ll see the adults do three different things:

1. Bring food to the nest constantly—mostly worms. But chicks need a precise combination of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. So the adults supplement the chicks’ diet with insects, spiders, and even fruit. Watch closely to see what they feed their young!

2. Clean the nest. After an adult puts food into a chick’s mouth, it checks the nest for little sacs of chick poop. You’ll see the adult drop a little “something” as it flies away from the nest.

3. Stay on or near the nest. That’s because newly hatched chicks have no warm feathers and are absolutely helpless and very weak. They’re so small that each one weighs less than a quarter!

After about a week, you should notice that an adult doesn’t always sleep on the nest at night. By then the chicks are big enough to snuggle together and keep each other warm.

Leaving Home . . . Sort Of
For about two weeks, the chicks grow rapidly and the nest becomes crowded. Then it’s time for them to leave. Then comes the fun part.

You’ll see the chicks, one at a time, teeter on the edge of the nest and take off. Look for a parent on the ground nearby offering encouragement.

A chick’s first flight isn’t perfect—it’s a bumbling, rolling, wing-flapping practice run. Chicks need lots of practice to fly!

The parents aren’t finished caring for the chicks after they hit the ground. That’s the stage where you can do some of your best watching.

The young one will follow the adult, begging for food by flapping its wings. The adult feeds it on the ground for a while. But eventually the chick has to learn to fend for itself. After a while the adult will refuse to feed the chick even when it begs. Then the chick will begin catch its own food. It’s now an adult!

Pretty cool, right? Robins are just one small part of God’s amazing creation. But they tell you a lot about the Creator. Pay attention this spring—go out and watch some robins!

About the Author

Joanne De Jonge is a freelance writer and a former U.S. National Park Ranger. She attends West Valley Christian Fellowship in Phoenix, Ariz.
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