Bent Life History of the American Robin
Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.
Bent Life History for the American Robin - the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.
TURDUS MIGRATORIUS MIGRATORIUS Linnaeus
CONTRIBUTED BY WINSOR MARRETT TYLER
The robin, the largest thrush in North America, is widely and familiarly known in the United States and Canada. To millions of people it is as well known as the crow, and far more popular.
The early English colonists gave it its name, doubtless because it resembled in coloration the robin redbreast of England, but they failed to notice the close relationship between our robin and their blackbird, which is a true thrush, Turdus, the two birds being very similar in habits, general deportment, and voice, although different in plumage.
H. C. Kyllingstad writes to us from Mountain Village, Alaska: "The robin here is not the confiding creature that it is in the States. Most frequently it nests away from the village as the native children like robin eggs to eat as well as those of any other bird. The old birds do come about the cabins while feeding or hunting food for the young, but the young are almost never seen, and the old birds keep a sharp watch and will not allow one to approach closely.
"Robins are fairly common in the willow and alder thickets along the Yukon and its branches, but in two years I have found no nests in these places. The only nests I have seen were on the edge of the village under a lean-to attached to a small warehouse. I was able to keep the children away from one nest and the three young left the day after I banded them. The robins are very suspicious of my banding traps; not one has been trapped in two years.”
Spring: From the warm Southern States the robin starts northward early in the year, often in flights of impressive magnitude. George H. Mackay (1897) reports an enormous flight of robins in Florida on February 14, 15, and 16, 1897, observed by James K. Knowlton about 100 miles south of St. Augustine. He says: "They came from a southerly direction, and were continually passing, alighting and repassing, on the above dates, the general movement being in a northerly direction. The air was full of them, and their numbers beyond estimate, reminding him of bees. Mr. Knowlton heard that this movement of Robins had been noted for a distance of ten miles away, across the flight." And Peter A. Brannon (1921) writes from Alabama: "The annual migration of Robins through the city of Montgomery, took place this year, during the latter part of February, and for ten days thousands were observed on the city streets."
As the robins move northward, they follow very closely the advance of the average daily temperature of 37°, and we may look for them in eastern Massachusetts soon after March 10. They take their place at this time in the opening scene of the grand, dramatic pageant of the long spring migration that follows our bleak, and often comparatively birdless, New England winter.
The robin, however, does not play a leading part in this initial scene; he is a minor character, not at his best so ear]y in the spring. The main actors in the play are the blackbirds, streaming onto the stage in murky, clattering clouds; the bluebirds, mated already, warbling their charming songs to their ladyloves; the song sparrows, filling every acre with their tinkling music.
Wendell Taber and I watched a typical arrival of robins on the morning of March 15, 1936, a day when there was a general influx of the birds into Massachusetts. Looking southward across a broad meadow, we saw them coming toward us, the first we had seen, a flock of a dozen or more, flying in open order, but rather evenly spaced, not closely packed like blackbirds. When they came to the northern edge of the meadow and caught sight of a patch of greensward, they checked their flight and settled on the grass, joining other robins that were running about there, and, after feeding a little while, passed on again to the north. All through the day, spent between Boston and Newburyport, the robin was a prominent bird, chiefly during the morning hours, mostly in small flocks, but sometimes collected in dozens, spread over the open fields. This day's observation is characteristic of the early spring robin flight. It is not spectacular; the great gatherings of the South have thinned out before reaching New England, leaving only small flocks of wild, wary male birds, which wander restlessly about the country, perching in high trees, or feeding in neglected fields or, more commonly, in the cedar pastures where they pluck off the berries. The birds are not in song at this season. They are comparatively silent (i.e., compared to their noisy companions in the migration), expressing themselves only in nervous exclamations.
Early in April we note a sudden, marked change in the behavior of the robins we see about us. We meet many of the birds now in the settled districts of the towns, in our gardens, running familiarly over the lawns. They are tamer than the first migrants and act as if they were our local birds returned to their last year's homes.
The arrival of the female birds at this time precipitates a period of noisy activity. For days our lawns and dooryards become the scene of countless combats and shrieking pursuits full of liveliness and excitement. A male bird will often run at another, seeming to jostle him, and both may then jump into the air against each other, suggesting a fight between gamecocks, or one bird may fly off pursued by the other.
When the noisy pursuits are in full swing, early in April, we sometimes see two robins dash past us, one bird following the other, a hand's breadth apart, sweeping along not far above the ground at a speed so reckless, with lightninglike twists and turns, that collision seems inevitable. Yet they continue on without mishap and pass out of our sight so rapidly that we cannot be sure of their respective sex, and we are left in doubt whether the pursuits are amatory or hostile. The special feature of these pursuits is that only two birds engage in them, and that the flights are maintained for a long distance.
At this season there is still only fitful singing, chiefly in the morning, but all day we hear the long, giggling laugh, he-he-he-he, and the scream of attack.
The ground is softening now, and the earthworms, near the surface, are available as food for the next generation of robins.
Courtship: John Burroughs (1894) ably describes a phase of robin activity, familiar to us all, in which the noisy pursuits assume an element of true courtship. He says: "In the latter half of April we pass through what I call the 'robin racket’ -- trains of three or four birds rushing pell-mell over the lawn and fetching up in a tree or bush, or occasionally upon the ground, all piping and screaming at the top of their voices, but whether in mirth or anger it is hard to tell. The nucleus of the train is a female. One cannot see that the males in pursuit of her are rivals; it seems rather as if they had united to hustle her out of the place. But somehow the matches are no doubt made and sealed during these mad rushes."
Bradford Torrey (1885) speaks of a quieter courtship:
How gently he approaches his beloved! How carefully he avoids ever coming disrespectfully near! No sparrow-like screaming, no dancing about, no melodramatic gesticulation. If she moves from one side of the tree to the other, or to the tree adjoining, he follows in silence. Yet every movement is a petition, an assurance that his heart is hers and ever must be. * * * On one occasion, at least, I saw him holding himself absolutely motionless, in a horizontal posture, staring at his sweetheart as if he would charm her with his gaze, and emitting all the while a subdued hissing sound. The significance of this conduct I do not profess to have understood; it ended with his suddenly darting at the female, who took wing and was pursued.
It is not uncommon to hear a robin give this hissing note when it is, apparently, alone: standing motionless, as Torrey says, and with its bill pointing slightly upward and the tail expanded. Sometimes, also, a male will utter the hissing sound in phrases much like his song, suggested by the whispered syllables hissilly, hissilly. I heard the note once, given in this form when the bird was on the wing.
Audubon (1841) describes what is evidently the culmination of courtship: "During the pairing season, the male pays his addresses to the female of his choice frequently on the ground, and with a fervour evincing the strongest attachment. I have often seen him, at the earliest dawn of a May morning, strutting around her with all the pomposity of a pigeon. Sometimes along a space of ten or twelve yards, he is seen with his tail fully spread, his wings shaking, and his throat inflated, running over the grass and brushing it, as it were, until he has neared his mate, when he moves round her several times without once rising from the ground. She then receives his caresses."
Nesting: The robin's nest appears as a rather large heap of coarse materials. It is rough on the outside, even unkempt sometimes, because many of the loose ends of grass stalks, twigs, and bits of string or cloth of which the nest is made are not tucked in or neatly woven into the body of the nest, but protrude or hang down from the outer wall. At the top is a deep depression like a round, smooth cup formed by a thick layer of mud, which extends upward to a firm rim, the cup being lined with a little fine, dry grass.
T. Gilbert Pearson (1910) describes thus the structure of a nest built in a balsam: "In its building, a framework of slender balsam twigs had first been used. There were sixty-three of these, some of which were as much as a foot in length. Intertwined with these were twenty fragments of weed stalks and grass stems. The yellow clay cup, which came next inside, varied in thickness from a quarter of an inch at the rim to an inch at the bottom. Grass worked in with the clay while it was yet soft aided in holding it together, and now, last of all, came the smooth, dry carpet of fine grass. The whole structure measured eight inches across the top; inside it was three inches in width, and one and a half deep."
Reginald Heber Howe, Jr. (1898), describes the bird's method of building the nest:
After the site has been chosen the building of a substantial foundation of twigs, grasses, string, etc., is begun; this finished, finer grasses are brought and the bird standing in the centre of the foundation draws thorn round. After the sides of the nest have been fairly well made the bird by turning around in the nest shapes it to the exact contour of its body, and by pushing its breast far down into the nest and raising the primaries, it presses the nest with the wrist of the wing into a compact and perfect mass. The next work is the plastering with mud; a rainy day is generally chosen for this work; the bird brings the mud in its bill and, placing it on the inside of the nest, flattens it into shape by exactly the methods just described. All that remains now is the lining, which is made of fine grasses and which adheres to the mud, making a substantial though not a particularly beautiful nest.
The average measurements of nest are; depth, outside, 3 inches; depth, inside, 2½ inches; breadth, outside, 6 ½ inches; breadth, inside, 4 inches.
J. H. Rohrbach (1915) points out that robins may use worm casts as a mud lining for their nests. He says: "A heavy rain of fourteen hours' duration came just at plastering-time. Mud was abundant. Then I observed what was new to me: the Robins passed by all kinds of mud except the castings of earthworms, which they gathered and used for nest: building.”
Katharine S. Parsons (1906) describes a nest from which hung "two fringed white satin badges, fastened by mud and sticks" and near them "a knot of coarse white lace" and "two white chicken feathers," and Henry Mousley (1916) states that "Robins here [Hatley, Quebec] are particularly fond of using pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) in the foundations of their nests."
In early days, before the forests were cleared away, robins presumably built mainly on horizontal limbs of trees or in crotches between the branches as many robins build now in the wilder, heavily wooded parts of the country, but when man felled the trees and replaced them by buildings, he supplied the bird with countless additional sites which afford an ample support, the chief requirement for a robin's nest. Concealment, it seems, is of minor importance to the robin, perhaps because it is difficult to hide so large a nest, perhaps because the bird is well able to defend it. In response to the change in conditions the robin has not only adopted many man-made structures as a site for its nest, but has also accepted man as a neighbor, breeding freely even in large cities in an environment completely changed from that of long ago. At the present time there are probably many times as many robins breeding in the United States as there were in Colonial days.
Frank L. Farley (MS.) makes an interesting comment on this subject in a letter to Mr. Bent: "During the last half century the robin has increased in Alberta at least 100 percent. This is in about the same ratio as the country has become settled. When the hard prairie lands were broken up, it was noted that earthworms were absent, but with the arrival of the settlers, it was not long before the worms began to appear, especially in the gardens surrounding the buildings. The birds increased in numbers at about the same rate as the growth of garden space. It is believed that the settlers inadvertently introduced the worms with the potted plants and shrubs which they brought with them."
There are many records in the literature of robins nesting in various situations which were not available years ago, such as on a rail fence, a fence post, a gate post, or a clothes-line post; Stanley Tess (1926) reports a nest "on the top of a gate-post which forms part of the gate itself. This is not a rarely used gate but, on the contrary, one in the public stockyards where it shuts oil' the runway leading to the loading platform." On buildings, nests have been placed on the ledge of a window, on blinds, on rain pipes or gutters under the eaves, on a rolled-up porch curtain, on a fire-escape, on beams inside or outside of buildings, piazzas, or porches, sometimes several old nests showing previous occupancy, and even on a lamp bracket in a dance hall. H. P. Severson (1921) tells of a nest that was placed on a trolley wire; "cars passed under this nest every few minutes, their trolley being only a few inches below it. On each occasion the Robin stood up, then settled back on the nest." A nest on a railroad signal gate was observed by Ward W. Adair (1920): "This gate is swung from one position to another perhaps fifty times in twenty-four hours. * * * At night when the red light was placed in position, the signalman's hands were always within a few inches of the bird." A nest may be placed on top of a bird house, or on any open shelf, but Gilbert H. Trafton (1907) tells of one that was actually in a bird-house. Wilbur F. Smith (1920) reports three nests inside a blacksmith's shop, respectively, on a wheel hub, on a smoke pipe, and "on some iron used to re-tire wheels, and within eight feet of the anvil before which the blacksmith worked most of the day." Access was provided for the bird by removal of a windowpane.
A. D. Du Bois refers in his notes to a nest in a cemetery, "about 5 feet from the ground, on top of a plain stone base, which supported the sculptured figure of a standing woman."
Other vagaries in nesting sites are: On a last year's hornet's nest, in a vacated nest of a catbird, on a last year's oriole's nest, on a shelf of rock in a cave, and in an old rotted-out woodpecker's hole in which a mud nest was built. Edward C. Raney (1939) tells of a robin sharing a nest with a mourning dove; "the birds shared the duties of incubation and * * * the eggs were hatched and the young were fed and brooded for eight days." The two species had shared a nest the previous year. Mr. Bent once found an occupied nest entirely inside an eel trap on Marthas Vineyard, Mass.; the trap was lying on open ground, and the eggs could be plainly seen through the netting (pl. 4).
Several cases have been reported in the literature where robins have built a series of nests, placed on a row along a beam.
Edward A. Preble (MS.) points out that the robin, when trees are not available, occasionally builds a nest on low cliffs. In Appendix G, by Seton and Preble, in Seton's "The Arctic Prairies" (1912, p. 405) is this record: "The bird was not common on Pike's Portage, between Great Slave Lake and Artillery Lake, but a deserted nest was seen near Toura Lake, near the summit of the divide, where nearly Barren Ground conditions prevail. There being no trees suitable for nesting, the bird had placed its home in a cranny on the face of a low cliff, where it was protected from the elements." A similar observation was later made near the camp at the "Last Woods" on the east side of Artillery Lake, early in the same year, 1907, when Mr. Preble saw a typical robin's nest, then deserted, on a low cuff, 5 or 6 feet from the ground and at least a mile from the nearest grove of spruces, where several deserted nests were observed in normal situations.
There are several records of robins building their nests on the ground, but the following is even more remarkable. Craig S. Thoms (1929) says: "The Robin had actually laid its clutch of eggs on the dry leaves beside a bush which was close to the house, as shown in the photograph. There was no sign of a nest, or even of an attempt to make one."
The nest is built chiefly by the female bird, although her mate aids by bringing in material. Berners B. Kelly (1913) says of a pair which he watched for hours: "On every journey, practically, the female brought larger loads than the male, and twenty-two more of them. The actual shaping of the nest was done entirely by the female, the male usually dropping his load haphazard on the edge of the structure."
Incubation, too, is performed mainly, if not wholly, by the female, the male meanwhile standing guard. Hervey Brackbill (MS.) states that he observed two pairs of robins marked with colored bands and that "every time that I could determine the sex of the incubating bird, it was the female. On one day of combined incubation and brooding all of 13 consecutive sittings were made by that bird." Ora W. Knight (1908), however, says that "the male also takes short turns at incubating, more often helping in this work towards the end of the incubation period." He remarks also: "I have known of a nest being completed and the first egg laid in six days from the time when it was commenced, while other nests have required even up to twenty days from time of beginning to completion, but the longer time required was due to a spell of prolonged rainy weather."
Mr. Preble (MS.) states: "On a morning early in June, about 1886 at my boyhood home in Wilmington, Mass., I happened to see the first few weed stalks deposited on the sloping branch of a medium-sized white oak in our grove, about 8 feet from the ground. At intervals through the day I observed the pair, busily engaged, and taking a look at the site just before dark I was surprised to find the nest virtually finished, the cup of mud fully formed but still wet. The next morning when I went out about breakfast time the earth cup was furnished with the usual lining of dry grass, and an egg had been laid. The clutch was completed promptly and the brood successfully raised."
The nest is kept scrupulously clean while the nestlings are in it, the parents seizing the fecal sacs as they are voided and frequently swallowing them. The male parent takes practically full charge of the fledglings, enabling his mate to prepare at once for another brood. In a nest I had under observation, four fertilized eggs were laid in a nest six days after the young of the first brood had left it.
Thomas D. Burleigh (1931), speaking of the robin in Pennsylvania, remarks: "Two and possibly three broods are reared each year," and he gives the normal height of the nest above the ground as "varying here from five to thirty feet."
Mr. Preble (MS.) submits notes on nesting robins received from W. A. Brown, of Aylesford, Nova Scotia, under date of February 16, 1948: "On my place last year, in an 8-inch-diameter maple, a pair of robins built three nests. The male had a pure-white feather in middle of upper tail coverts. The same year I had a robin's nest in which two broods were raised. A neighbor had a blue spruce in which, three years ago, a pair of robins raised three broods in one nest. Last year I found a robin's nest on the ground, and two years ago one on the ground."
Robins show persistency in their nesting habits, often returning to the same nest or situation year after year. The following quotations illustrate this habit. Dr. Charles W. Townsend (1909) says: "In the 'Birds of Essex County,' page 313, I recorded a Robin's nest that was built under the porch, on the lintel of the front door of my summer house, at Ipswich, Mass., and, at the time the book was published, had been occupied, presumably by the same pair, for four successive seasons. Since then it was used for two more summers, or six in all, but in the winter following the last, i.e., the winter of 1906--7, it was blown down, and the spot has not been built on since. I think, however, that the same pair have since built in a bush close to the front door. This nest over the door was repaired and built a little higher each year, so that in the summer of' 1906, when it was last occupied, it had attained a height of eight inches, and was practically a six-storied nest." John H. Sage (1885) reports that "a Robin built her nest five consecutive years in a woodbine that was trained up and over a piazza. We knew her by a white mark on one side of her head."
Hugh M. Halliday, of Toronto, Canada, has sent us a photograph of a very tall nest (p1. 2), in which at least two broods a year had been raised during six successive seasons.'
Eggs: [Author's NOTE: Four eggs comprise the usual set for the robin, but often only three are laid; five eggs in a set are rare, and I have taken one set of six, and sets of seven have been reported. The eggs vary greatly in size and shape; the usual shape is typical-ovate, but some are rounded-ovate, elliptical-ovate, or even elongate-ovate. Some are quite glossy after they ha4e been sat upon, but usually they have only a slight luster. Robin's-egg blue seems to be commonly accepted as a standard color and well known; more specifically this means either "Nile blue" or "pale Nile blue," as the eggs appear in collections; some freshly laid eggs may be as dark as "beryl green." I have seen some pure-white eggs. Almost invariably they are unmarked, but I have seen one set that was sparingly marked with a few small spots and dots of very dark brown; and I have heard of a number of other spotted sets, some faintly dotted with pale brown.
The measurements of 50 eggs in the average 28.1 by 20.0 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 31.6 by 20.3, 28.5 by 23.1, 23.8 by 18.8, and 27.9 by 16.8 millimeters.]
Young: Franklin L. Burns (1915), from the records of several observers, gives the incubation period of the robin as 11 to 14 days. William Edward Schantz (1939), who made an intensive study of three broods of robins, spending "from one to 16 hours each day in direct observation," found that "incubation began in all nests the evening following the deposit of the second egg and lasted for 12 ½ to 13 days.”
Hervey Brackbill writes in his notes: "The incubation period for a marked egg was an hour or two less than 12 days." Of the nestlings he says: "When I lifted them out of the nest to band them, at the age of 7 or 8 days, they clutched the bottom of the nest so tenaciously with their feet that they pulled up a bit of the grass lining. Such a grip must be useful in preventing young birds from being tossed out of the nest during storms."
Schantz (1939) states that one of his broods left the nest 15 and 16 days and another 14 days after hatching. This is about the period of nest life that 1 noted in a brood in 1912 (Winsor M. Tyler, 1913): These young birds (a second brood) hatched on June 25, or possibly the day before. On the 25th their mouths were just visible above the rim of the nest. On July 1 they filled the nest level full, and tossed about restlessly, apparently preening their feathers. On July 4 they were feathering out fast; they reared up in the nest and flapped their wings, in danger it seemed of falling. On July 7 they were so large that in moving about they overflowed the nest, and one of them stood on a branch of the crotch and moved back and forth between it and the nest, using its wings to steady itself. On July 8 three of the birds, and perhaps the fourth, left the nest.
James Russell Lowell says in his Bigelow Papers that the robins settle down to nesting about the time when the leaves of the horse-chestnut tree begin to unfold. In a normal year we notice this phenomenon in eastern Massachusetts, where Lowell lived, toward the close of April, so, allowing two weeks for the incubation of the eggs, and two weeks more for their life as nestlings, the young birds are ready to fly in early June. At this time a day comes when all the robins in the neighborhood appear to be in the highest pitch of excitement; young birds are blundering about on the ground, and their parents seem distracted for their safety. 'We also hear a new note on this day, a queer, loud, exclamatory seech-ook, which leads us to where the young robins are squatting on the grass, waiting to be fed: plump, innocent-looking birds with spotted breasts and stumpy tails, staring up at the sky with little sign of fear, a choice morsel for the house cat.
They soon become wary, however, and before long are able to avoid attack by running swiftly away, or by flying out of reach. The male parents now take full charge of the broods, and as they scud over the grass plots in search of earthworms, the little birds follow them about expectantly, waiting for them to pull out the worms, shake them, and thrust them into their throats. The fledglings rapidly acquire the manner of adult birds. In a few days they throw oil the crouching attitude of the nestling and assume the erect, proud bearing of adult birds, and in less than two weeks are able, but not always willing, to find food for themselves. The male parent is thus free to aid in the care of the next brood, which is almost ready to hatch.
Plumages: [AUTHOR'S NOTE: Dr. Dwight (1900) says that the natal down of the robin is "mouse-gray." He gives a full account of the juvenal plumage, but I prefer the more concise description by Mr. Ridgway (1907) as follows: "Head as in adults, but the black duller and white orbital markings less sharply defined, sometimes bully; back and scapulars grayish brown or olive, the feathers with central or mesial spots or streaks of white or pale bull and blackish tips; rump and upper tail-coverts brownish gray or grayish brown, the feathers sometimes narrowly tipped with blackish; wings and tail as in adults, but wing-coverts with terminal wedge-shaped spots or streaks of pale rusty, bull, or whitish; chin and throat white or pale huffy, margined laterally with a stripe of blackish or line of blackish streaks; underparts cinnamon-rufous, ochraceous-tawny, or bully ochraceous (sometimes the chest and breast much paler, occasionally whitish), conspicuously spotted with black, the lower abdomen white or pale bully." There is much individual variation in the amount of rufous on the underparts; some juvenals have the sides of the breast largely as bright rufous as in adults, and others have little or none of this color.
A postjuvenal molt, involving all the contour plumage, the wing coverts, and tertials, but not the rest of the wings or the tail, takes place from August to October, the date depending largely on the date of hatching. This produces a first winter plumage which is similar to the winter plumages of the adults of the respective sexes, but the colors are duller and more veiled, browner above, head not so dark, and the white spots on the tail feathers are smaller. The first nuptial plumage is produced by wear; much of the white edging on the breast is lost so that the breast becomes redder; the head becomes blacker and the chin clearer black and white.
Young and old birds become indistinguishable after the next postnuptial molt, which is complete, in August and September. The sexes are alike in the juvenal plumage, but after that the females are always somewhat duller in color, the upperparts lighter and browner, the head not so black, and the breast paler, often edged with whitish.
Dr. Harold B. Wood, who has made a thorough study of the white tail markings of eastern robins, tells me that there is great individual variation in the extent and shape of these markings, which are constant from year to year in individual birds. His studies were based on the examination of 162 robins trapped from 1938 to 1943, and the results will be published.
Albinism is common in the robin. I have seen many partial and some fully albino birds, both in life and in museums. While visiting with Hon. R. M. Barnes, at Lacon, Ill., I saw a beautiful perfect albino robin that had been living in his conservatory for some time. Melanism, the excess of black pigment in the plumage, is much less common, but it occurs occasionally. Sometimes both phases of abnormal plumage may occur in the same individual, and either may be replaced by normal plumage at the next molt. For further information on albinism, melanism, and other items about robins, the reader is referred to a series of papers by Dr. Earl Brooks, published in the Indiana Audubon Society's Year Books for 1931 to 1935.
Hugh M. Halliday has sent me a beautiful series of photographs (pl. 5) of a pair of nesting robins, one pure white and the other in normal plumage; they have been mated together and nested for three successive years at 78 Broadway Avenue, Toronto; they have raised two broods of three and one brood of four young during the three years, all of which have developed normally colored plumage.]
Food: Waldo L. McAtee (1926), in his study of the relation of birds to woodlots, makes a distinction between the food of the woodland robins and those which live in our dooryards. He writes the following comprehensive report of the robins' food:
Our knowledge of the feeding habits of the Robin is based mainly of course on studies of the bird as it ordinarily occurs, near to man and his works. We do not have particular information on the mode of life of the woodland Robins. We may, however, be assured on two points, namely that cultivated fruits do not play the part in the diet of these birds that they do in the case of our (in this respect, too familiar) neighbors, and that wild berries therefore are of much greater importance to this fruit-loving bird.
Like the true thrushes the Robin approves of a 60: 40 dietary composition, hut in a reverse sense, the larger item in its case being vegetable rather than animal food. There is no question about Robins sometimes taking too much cultivated fruit, thus necessitating reduction in their numbers. However, the woodland Robins with which we are here especially concerned have little or no part in these depredations, and their fruit-eating is a benefit rather than an injury because it results in the planting of numerous trees and shrubs. The favorite wild fruits of New York robins are those of red cedar, greenbrier, mulberry, pokeweed, juneberry, blackberry and raspberry, wild cherry, sumac, woodbine, wild grape, dogwood, and blueberry.
Beetles and caterpillars are the items of animal food taken in greatest quantity by the Robin, with bugs, hymenoptera, flies, and grasshoppers of considerably less importance. Spiders, earthworms, millipeds, sowbugs, and snails are additional sorts of animal food worth mentioning.
Various insects which are pests or near pests in woodlots have been identified from stomachs of Robins and we may be sure that a special study of Robins actually living in forests would greatly increase the list. * * *
In the economic court the Robin of the forest, and the Robin of the houseyard, must be adjudged separately, and regardless of the fact that it is differences in opportunities largely, that gives the former a much better character than the latter. The forest Robin has no chance at cultivated fruits and it has much greater opportunities to devour woodland insect pests. As we have seen, it improves these opportunities and should be credited accordingly. In the woodlot the Robin is certainly more beneficial than injurious.
F. E. L. Beal (1915a) in a report of an extensive study of the robins' food carefully weighs the benefit that the robin renders man by consuming harmful insects against the birds' depredations upon the fruit in his orchards. In his summary he says: "While the animal food of the robin includes a rather large percentage of useful beetles, it is not in the consumption of these or any other insect that this bird does harm. A bird whose diet contains so large a percentage of fruit, including so many varieties, may at any time become a pest when its natural food fails and cultivated varieties are accessible. While the robin to-day probably is doing much more good than harm, it must be acknowledged that the bird is potentially harmful."
Professor Beal (1915a) suggests a means by which we can divert the robin's attention front our fruit trees. "For a number of years," he says:
the writer was engaged in the cultivation of small fruits in Massachusetts, and although robins were abundant about the farm they did no appreciable damage. On the farm where the writer lived when a boy was a fine collection of the choicest varieties of cherries. The fruit first to ripen each year was shared about equally by the birds and the family, but that which matured afterwards did not attract the birds, probably because in that section the woods and swamps abound with many species of wild fruits.
Reports of depredations upon fruit by birds come principally from the prairie region of the West. This is just what might be expected, for but few prairie shrubs produce the wild berries that the birds prefer and for lack of these the birds naturally feed upon the cultivated varieties available. Reports of fruit losses caused by birds in the East are usually from the immediate vicinity of villages or towns where there is no natural fruit-bearing shrubbery. From this it follows that an effective remedy for the ravages of birds upon cultivated fruits is to plant the preferred wild varieties.
The following food-bearing trees, shrubs, and herbs appear on his list: Red cedar, common juniper, bayberry, hackberry, mulberry, pokeberry, sassafras, juneberry (Amelanchier), spiceberry (Benzoin), mountain-ash, chinaberry, hawthorn, burningbush (Euonymus), woodbine, flowering dogwood, and other cornels and viburnums. Professor Beal also gives a list of over 200 species of insects and 7 species of mollusks that have been found in the stomachs of robins.
W. J. Hamilton, Jr. (1935), during a study of four robins' nests, found that the food fed to the nestlings "during late May and early June consisted principally of cutworms." He says: "From the earliest period these larvae form a prominent share of the menu." Dr. Hamilton continues:
In order to determine the quantity of food eaten by the young birds, the freshly fed cutworm, adult insects, worms, etc., were occasionally removed from the young with blunt forceps, immediately upon being fed by the parent birds, and immediately weighed. This procedure was inaugurated while the birds were but a day or two old, and continued on alternate days until the young left the nest. By this method it was estimated the birds brought to the young approximately two grams of food at each visit, or a daily feeding of 200 grams of animal matter to the nestlings, be they three, four, or five.
The estimate is high for the early days in the nest and low for the days immediately preceding the time of leaving the nest. It is thought to be fairly accurate and, at least, gives some clue to the amount of food eaten. Robins feed their young, apparently regardless if there be three or five, approximately 3.2 pounds of food during the two weeks while in the nest. The observations were made several weeks before cherries ripened and, because of this, the food consisted almost entirely of animal matter.
In a more recent article Dr. Hamilton (1943) gives the following interesting analysis "of 200 Robin droppings collected between May 1 and June 12, 1942. The figures indicate the percentage of frequency of occurrence of the different food items.
"Plants, 81.5: barberry, 61.0; sumach, 29.0; coral berry, 4.5.
"Animals, 93.5: beetles, 'n"' 82.5; millipedes, 38.5; ants, * * * 27.0; cutworms, 9.5; sowbugs, 6.5; wireworms, 4.0; flies, 3.0; cockroaches, 1.5."
A. W. Perrior (1899) writes that the young birds are sometimes fed on hairy caterpillars, the "larvae of Clisicocampa (probably C. americana)"; Lotta A. Cleveland (1923) says that in 1922 the 17-year locusts on their emergence from the ground were used extensively as food for the young; John C. Phillips (1927) reports a remarkable instance of robins catching trout fry at the State hatchery at Sutton, Mass.; A. C. Bent (MS.) speaks of the robins' fondness for crab apples; and Floyd Bralliar (1922) tells of the intoxicating effect of the berries of the "umbrella china" tree. "They fall to the ground," he says, "and lie on their side, occasionally feebly fluttering, apparently as happy as any drunkard in his cups."
One of the familiar features of summer to those of us who live in the Northern States within sight of a bit of greensward is the patrol of the robins over the grass in search of earthworms. Almost every little New England village has its common, a level bit of "green" near the town center, and these grass plots, from April, when the worms begin to stir, until the parching droughts of August dry up the grass, become the feeding grounds of all the robins in the neighborhood.
Sometimes half a dozen or more birds, widely scattered, may be seen running over the closely cropped grass, generally in amity, although sometimes one will fly at another and drive him off a little way. The birds take a short, straight run with a quick, tripping gait, then pause to look or listen for their prey. As they run, the back is nearly parallel to the ground, and the head is drawn back and settled between the shoulders, in the position of a decoy duck. When they stop to investigate the grass, they lean forward, turning the head to one side, bringing eye or ear to bear on a suspected spot, resembling the little semipalmated plovers as they feed on the wet sand of the seashore. The robin thrusts his bill deep among the grass blades, prods about the roots and, seizing a worm, leans backward, and bracing his feet against the pull, carefully draws the worm from the ground. Then, looping it up in his bill, he flies off to his nest or perhaps continues his search for another worm.
Robins are not always on the lookout for worms when they course over the grass. Often, early in spring, before the worms are within reach, and late in autumn, after they have retired deep under ground for the winter, robins frequent grassy fields. Here they are seeking smaller game which they see, apparently, above the ground. We may watch them snatching up, over and over again, little bits of food, tiny insects perhaps, which seem very numerous at these seasons among the grass and weeds of the open fields. Sometimes, when the grass is too long for the bird to run over it easily, he hops along with his head high and his primaries lowered, almost sweeping the grass, suggesting the Hylocichlae as they spring over the forest floor.
Tilford Moore writes from St. Paul, Minn., that the robins there seem to be fond of honeysuckle berries and feed them to their young. They "seem to prefer the red berries of the pink honeysuckle to the orange ones of the white honeysuckle. In fact, the yellow ones seem rarely to be touched until all the red berries are gone."
Behavior: The robin impresses us as a bird of a nervous, highly excitable character, ever on the point of flaring up to an excess of emotion amounting almost to uncontrolled hysterics. For this reason it is a relief to see him in the role described above, quietly feeding on our lawn. The most frequent notes we hear the robin utter, perhaps, are fretful expressions of uneasiness, complaint, or resentment at our presence or at some other distraction, yet it is characteristic of him to break out with a phrase or two of song even in the midst of complaint. He seems always apprehensive, often standing alert and restless, wing tips lowered or twitching, head high, and tail pumping, on the watch for danger, and the least alarm upsets his equilibrium and startles him into vociferous, unrestrained remonstrance. Not an attractive nature, we think. How different the calm preoccupation of the little brown creeper! Yet the robin has many good qualities: he is robust, confident, a straightforward personality, and no more nervous, perhaps, than many another American. Morning and evening he adds a charming hour to the summer day when he and all his neighbors join in a chorus of singing, in the twilight before the sun rises and after it sets.
It is easy to recognize the robin on the wing, even at a distance. He flies with a very straight back, like a runner with head thrown back, and his breast appears puffed out, expanded, giving a curved outline to the underparts in contrast to the long, straight line of the back and tail. The wings, at the end of a stroke, are not clapped close to the sides, as in the flight of a blackbird or woodpecker. The robin nevertheless accomplishes a full stroke by flipping the tips of the wings well backward so that, at the end of the stroke, the primary feathers of each side are nearly parallel, while the wrist remains out a little way from the body. The wings move rapidly and regularly and there is commonly no soaring or sailing.
A. Dawes DuBois (MS.) sends a note to Mr. Bent describing fearless behavior of the robin. He says: "The robins that nested on my rain pipe became almost entirely fearless. When there were well-grown young in the nest, the male, darting from a tree, struck me a sharp blow on the forehead when I looked out of my window, and one day, when I was at the window, the female flew into the room and grabbed me by the hair with her claws." He adds: "A nest built in a Virginia-creeper was only about 3 feet from a house wren's nesting box. Sometimes the robins drove the wrens away, but usually there seemed to be no friction between the two species."
A. C. Bent (MS.) speaks of the robins' sun bath. "Even on the hottest days," he says, "I often see a robin taking a sun bath on my lawn; he crouches on the grass with wings spread, or lies over on one side, with the wing on the sunny side uplifted, so that the sun penetrates under the fluffed-out feathers of the body. It may remain in this position for several minutes, sometimes for many minutes, as if it enjoyed the warmth of the sun, or derived some hygienic benefit from it. Again in a light, drizzling rain, I have seen them taking rain baths, standing erect for some time, with the bill pointing upward, so that the rain washed the plumage and drained off."
Speaking of territory, Aretas A. Saunders (1938) says: "Robins seem to have territories and to guard them, but they must be small, and probably a large part of the area, where food is found, such as groups of berry-bearing bushes, forms neutral territory. One gets the same impression of neutral territory in this bird, when noting several robins hunting earthworms on a lawn during the nesting season. There seem to be no earthworm hunting tracts here [Allegany State Park], for earthworms are scarce and hard to find. How small the territories are, is shown by finding nests rather close to each other on the school grounds."
This report is in accord with Hervey Brackbill's experience. He states (MS.): "The extreme points at which I saw one pair of color-banded robins that nested in a suburban neighborhood of detached houses indicated a territory extending about sixty yards north and south and sixty yards east and west. Other robins nested closely about on all sides. Both adults defended the territory. Of seven defences which I saw, the male made five and the female two. Strange robins, both adult and immature, were the object of attack five times, a blue jay once, and a gray squirrel once."
There are three records, W. A. Marshall (1921), F. G. McIntosh (1922), and Harry F. Binger (1932), each describing a robin's capture of a small snake, presumably as food for its young.
Robins not infrequently attack their own images reflected in a windowpane, sometimes returning to the attack for days. J. A. Allen (1879) reports a yellow warbler acting in the same manner, but most of the records of this habit refer to the robin, probably because it is the most conspicuous bird of a belligerent nature which breeds about our houses.
J. W. Lippincott (1912) speaks of robins feeding on the ocean beach. He says: "On August 20, 1912, a number of unusually large, dark-colored birds could be seen running along the beach [at Watch Hill, R. I.], which, upon closer inspection, proved to be Robins. They did not mingle with the little shore birds, but followed the retreating waves in much the same manner as these, and evidently ate the same food," and Dr. Charles W. Townsend (1905) says that they frequent "the dry parts of the beaches, the sand dunes, and the salt marshes."
May Thacher Cooke (1937) reports on the age of a bird. A robin, "banded at Philadelphia, Pa., on August 18, 1925, by Dr. William Pepper, was retrapped at the same place on September 25, 1929, and May 5, 1932," and Alexander Wilson (Wilson and Bonaparte, 1832) recounts the following story: "A lady, who resides near Tarrytown, on the banks of the Hudson, informed me that she raised and kept one of these birds for seventeen years; which sung as well, and looked as sprightly, at that age as ever; but was at last unfortunately destroyed by a cat."
Margaret Morse Nice (1933) speaks of a pair of robins "having been mated three years in succession. In 1932 the male arrived February 10; in 1933 on January 25th. * * * His mate never comes till March."
It was not until comparatively recently that the robins' habit of roosting during the breeding season was brought to the attention of ornithologists. The older writers, Wilson, Nuttall, and Audubon, say nothing of the habit.
In 1890 William Brewster published a comprehensive account of the robin roosts in the neighborhood of Cambridge, Mass., and showed that a large number of the breeding birds in the region gathered every evening at a roost and spent the night there during most of the breeding season. He had been aware of the habit for over 20 years, and he traces the history of several roosts during this period. He says (1890):
Our Massachusetts Robin roosts are invariably in low-lying woods which are usually swampy and are composed of such deciduous trees as maples, oaks, chestnuts, and birches, sometimes mixed with white pines. I have never known Robins actually to spend the night, however, in the latter, or indeed in any species of evergreen, except at Falmouth, Mass., where there has been a small gathering, these past two seasons, in a white cedar swamp. The trees in the roost may be tall and old with spreading tops, or crowded saplings only twenty to thirty feet in height, but it is essential that they furnish a dense canopy of foliage of sufficient extent to accommodate the birds which assemble there. As a rule, the woods are remote from buildings, and surrounded by open fields or meadows, but the latter may be hemmed in closely by houses, as is the ease with a roost which at present exists in the very heart of Cambridge. A roost once established is resorted to nightly, not only during an entire season, but for many successive seasons. Nevertheless it is sometimes abandoned either with or without obvious cause, as the following account of the movements of the Cambridge Robins during the past twenty odd years will show.
We can form some idea of the multitude of birds that may compose these gatherings from the following quotation from Mr. Brewster's article:
I made no counts at the Maple Swamp roost, but as I remember it, it never contained more than about 2000 birds. Its successor at Little River was not only very much larger, but if my notes and memory can he trusted, was by far the largest gathering that has ever fallen under my observation. Thus I find that on the evening of Aug. 4, 1875, I estimated the Robins which came in on two sides only at 25,000. This estimate was not mere guess work but was based on a count of the birds which passed during an average minute, multiplied by the number of minutes occupied by the passage of the bulk of the flight. Such a method, of course, is far from exact, and it very probably gave exaggerated results, but a deduction of fifty per cent would surely eliminate all possible exaggeration. As the birds were coming in quite as numerously on the two sides opposite to those where my estimate was made, it follows that the total, after making the above deduction, was still 25,000, and this I feel sure was far below the actual number.
Of the dates when the roosts are resorted to, he says:
During the past season Mr. Faxon saw a few Robins going to the Beaver Brook roost as early as June 11, but I have never observed any well-marked flights at Cambridge before the 20th of that month. The time probably depends somewhat on the date at which the first broods of young are strong enough to make the necessary effort, for the earlier gatherings are composed chiefly of young birds still in spotted plumage. Perhaps net all of these able to undertake the journey actually perform it at this period, for the movement, at its inception, is slight, and it gains momentum slowly. After July 1 it increases more rapidly, and by the middle of July becomes widespread and general, although it does not usually reach its height until the latter part of that month or early in August. By this time the old birds have brought out their second breeds, and old and young of both sexes and all ages and conditions join the general throng. In fact it is nearly certain that during August practically all our Robins visit some roost nightly. * * *
After the middle of September the roosting flights diminish rapidly, and by the end of the first week in October the roosts are practically deserted. The latest date in my possession at which any Robins have been actually found in a roost is Oct 20, 1889, when Mr. Faxon noticed a few still lingering at Beaver Brook, but my notes record that on Nov. 6, 1888, I saw a succession of flocks flying, at sunset, into these Beaver Brook woods which, at the time, were "leafless"! About 200 Robins were seen on this occasion. They were in unusually large flocks, one, which passed me closely, containing fully 100 birds. If, as seems probable, they were migrants from further north it is interesting that they should have found their way to this roost; but perhaps enough local birds were with or near them to serve as guides. Mr. Faxon believes that our roosts receive some accessions from the north as early as September.
Continuing, Mr. Brewster adds: "Most of the roosts which I have visited are resorted to by other birds besides Robins." Among these he mentions bronzed grackles, cowbirds, red-winged blackbirds, kingbirds, Baltimore orioles, cedar waxwings, and brown thrashers.
Brewster (1906) also gives an interesting account of the behavior of the robins at a roost in his dooryard in the city of Cambridge. He says:
Late in June, 1902, they began assembling every evening: to my infinite surprise: in some ancient lilacs which form a dense and rather extensive thicket in the garden immediately behind our house. At first there were not more than twenty or thirty birds, but their numbers rapidly increased until by the close of summer we often counted as many as four or five hundred. * * * During the whole of May the roost was frequented nightly by fifty or more birds, all apparently old males. By the middle of June these were joined by the first broods of young, and a month or so later by the old females with their second broods. Thus the number of Robins steadily increased until early in August, when it probably reached its maximum and when we sometimes noted upwards of seven hundred birds in the course of a single evening. The frequent presence of members of my family on the back piazza (which is only a few yards from the lilacs) when the evening flight was coming in, gave the Robins some concern at first, but they soon became perfectly reconciled to it. * * *
As the piazza faces a little opening about which the lilacs are grouped on the remaining three sides, it commands an unobstructed view of the roost and affords rare facilities for watching the birds at close range. I have been interested to learn that a sound resembling the pattering of hail, which is heard when they are fluttering among the foliage and which I had formerly supposed to be caused by their wings striking the leaves, is really made, at least in part, by their bills.
When two or more of them are contesting for possession of the same perch they first threaten one another with wide-opened beaks and then bring their mandibles rapidly and forcibly together, thereby producing the sound above described. After they have quite ceased their calling and fluttering one may pass: even in bright moonlight: within a yard or two of branches where they are roosting by dozens without disturbing them. They invariably begin to leave the roost at daybreak, usually departing singly or in small parties, and scattering in every direction, When the exodus is performed in this manner, it often continues until sunrise. On several occasions, however, I have seen practically the entire body of birds leave simultaneously in the morning twilight, in one immense flock, with a prodigious whirring of wings. The evening flights vary similarly in character but to a less degree. Ordinarily the incoming birds are arriving more or less continuously for half an hour or more, but occasionally the majority of them will appear in the course of ten or twelve minutes, this usually happening when the weather is stormy.
Other references to accounts of the roosting of robins are: A. J. Stover (1912), Arthur R. Abel (1914), William Youngworth (1929), Mrs. J. Frederick Clarke (1.930), Joseph C. Howell (1940), and Bradford Torrey (1892).
Tilford Moore writes to us that when some heavy bombing planes were flying over in formation, a robin in his backyard became very much excited, as it would if a cat were about, flitting from one perch to another, with much flicking of wings and tail and worried calls.
Voice: The robin is at his best when he is singing. In the long choruses at morning and evening, and frequently for shorter periods during the day, he devotes himself to song, and as he stands motionless on a high perch, his head thrown back a little, whistling his happy phrases, his nerves relax, it seems, and a thrushlike calm comes over him: for the time, he seems at peace. Cheerily, cheery is a favorite rendering of his song, aptly suggesting by sound and meaning the joyous tenor of the phrases, and the liquid quality of the notes. The song lacks the artistry and poetic quality of the Hylocichlae, and the gentle charm of the bluebird's voice, but it is nevertheless an earnest, pleasing expression of happy contentment. It is generally a long-continued performance made up of paired phrases of two or three syllables each, often alternating up and down in pitch, given with perfect regularity at the rate of about two phrases per second. Close attention, however, will detect, after every few phrases, an almost imperceptible break in the beat, so that an uninterrupted run of a dozen phrases is rare. Frequently in the course of a long period of singing the bird pauses for a longer interval, perhaps for a second's duration, and than continues his song. Often, too, we hear a singing robin raise the pitch of his phrases higher and higher as the song goes on, apparently striving to attain a note beyond his range, until his voice breaks into hissing phrases without tone quality, the acme of his attempt. This peculiarity is characteristic also of the hermit thrush's song.
The robin's song is so characteristic, with its regular beat, its full round tone, and the robust quality of cheerfulness that pervades it, that we recognize it instantly. Yet as we listen to the robins in our dooryards singing day after day, we soon learn to distinguish some of the birds by slight differences in their songs; by a peculiar note recurring in a phrase, by the number of phrases which compose a group, or by a tempo slower or more rapid than the normal rate of the song. Also we notice sometimes that a bird will take a stand to sing his evening chorus on a branch, or perhaps the roof of our house, each night on the same perch, and if we are able to mark down this bird by some peculiarity in his song, we shall find that it is always the same bird that comes to the perch and that he often returns to it to sing during the day.
Aretas A. Saunders (MS.) sends this analysis of the robins' song to Mr. Bent: "The song of the robin is long-continued; made up of phases with short pauses between them. These phrases are repeated, alternated, or otherwise arranged in groups of two to five, with longer pauses between the groups. Each phrase is composed of one to four notes, but most commonly two or three. The notes are frequently joined by liquid consonant sounds like r or l. I have records of portions of the songs of 49 different robins: in these the pitch varies from A ‘ ‘ to B ‘ ‘ ‘, one tone more than an octave. My records are fairly complete for 24 of these birds, and in these the average variation in pitch is about thee tones, the least two tones, and the greatest five and a half. The time of the song is regularly rhythmical, the phases and pauses being of even length. Ordinarily the robin sings at a rate of two phases per second. In the very early morning they often sing faster and more continuously, the phrases not being broken up into groups. Then the rate is about two and a half phases per second. Individual robins differ from each other in the phrases they use and the order in which they sing them. While many of the phases are common to robins in general, nearly every individual will have some peculiar phase. The average number of phrases used by one individual is about 10, but there is great variation: one bird I listened to for some time had apparently only 2; another had but 3, while a third unusual bird had 26. Two- and three-note phases are the rule, but a single note used as a phrase is not uncommon. Only twice have I heard a phrase of four notes."
Hervey Brackbill (MS.) writes: "The robin frequently sings on the ground, sometimes for minutes at a stretch while standing at one place, sometimes intermittently between hops or runs in its foraging. I have also noticed a robin singing while on the wing; one sang a three-note phrase during a fifty-foot flight from one tree to another in the early morning."
The robin is apparently the first New England bird to awake in the morning. A few males begin to sing in darkness, at the earliest dim sign of approaching dawn; soon, as the light strengthens, more and more birds awake and join the singing until, gaining in volume, the song swells into a general chorus which lasts all through the morning twilight. I remember that William Brewster was much impressed by the element of drama in the great wave of robins' song which sweeps overhead every morning during the breeding season in the darkness before daylight, and continues on, westward, keeping pace with the sun, but beginning far in advance of its light, as it moves across the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
As July advances, the morning chorus, which the robins have been performing since early in April as an almost formal observance in the hush before dawn, begins to fade out and wane. By the middle of the month, if we listen at our window as the sun approaches the horizon, and its light increases to the degree when robins are accustomed to awake and sing, there is silence: or at most a single robin singing alone, far away; we hear only the birds of night, the killdeer and the nighthawk. But after half an hour of waiting, as day comes nearer, when the gray of night no longer shuts in our vision, and we look out on a green world again, we may see a robin shoot swiftly past our window, then another, and then others, flying to the trees near the house. Soon we hear them singing, rather freely to be sure, but not in the organized chorus of early summer.
This delay in the morning singing is doubtless due to the fact that at this season the male robins do not spend the night near their nesting sites but at a roost to which they escort the young birds of the first brood. If we watch the fading sky at evening, we may see the robins of the neighborhood start off toward the roost, trailing along in loose order, after calling restlessly in the trees for a while, and perhaps singing a little. The evening chorus, too, is over for the season.
Horace W. Wright (1912) and Francis H. Allen (1913) have published the results of careful studies of "The Morning Awakening" to which the reader is referred.
Robins sing freely from early in April to the close of the nesting season late in July. In August and September they sing very infrequently, but later in the autumn and even in winter we hear sporadic songs from the wandering flocks of late migrants and wintering birds.
Albert R. Brand (1938) gives the approximate mean vibration frequency of the robin's song as 2,800, a little lower than that of the red-eyed vireo, 3,600, and of the scarlet tanager, 2,925, birds whose songs resemble somewhat the song of the robin. However, the highest recorded note of the redeye is much higher, 5,850, than the highest note of the robin, 3,300.
The robin has a variety of notes in addition to his familiar song. Some of these, although as well known perhaps as the song, are not easily suggested by syllables. Many observers have their own set of renderings in phrases and syllables, which represent to them the various utterances of the robin, but these renderings, even for the same note, differ from one another in marked degree. Also, a feature that adds to the difficulty in describing robins' notes is that they resemble one another sometimes rather closely, so that it is hard to draw the line between them, to decide whether we are dealing with two different notes or variants of one note.
The following list, it is hoped, will serve to differentiate 10 common notes of the robin. The syllables, of course, are merely approximations of what we hear, and the few words of comment aim to help out the shortcomings that must arise when we attempt to transcribe into letters the voice of a bird. 1. Seech-ook; an exclamatory note which the young robin utters soon after leaving the nest. 2. Pleent, tut-tut-tut; the first note, which might be written plint, and sometimes sounds more like week, is usually single, but may be repeated once or twice, and may be given without the tut notes. It is a sort of gasp, accented, higher in pitch than the succeeding, more rapid tuts. The latter (huh suggests the aspirated quality) may be likened to the interjection commonly written "humph," representing a low-spoken exclamation. 3. Sss, tut-tut-tut; a sibilant variation of the above, a tremulous, sibilant sound, a shaky squeal, followed by troubled sobbing. 4. Skeet, skeet; two or three high screams, uttered as if in haste. 5. Seech, each-each-each; a screaming variant of 2 and 3. It may be given see-seech with the second note accented and on a higher pitch. A common note, suggesting unrest. 6. He-he-he-he-he; a rapid, laughing giggle, suggesting sometimes a note of the red-winged blackbird, or in lighter, more musical form it may run quickly up and down the scale. This is the note which reminded Schuyler Mathews (1921) of the once popular song "Hiawatha." 7. Chill-ill-ill-ill; varying from 3 to 8 notes, given in a tinkling voice, the chill struck firmly, the ills successively losing force and dropping slightly in pitch to the final ill. The rhythm strongly suggests the ringing of the kind of bell formerly used on ambulances and police wagons. In tone of voice and in pitch this note resembles the song but differs from it in phrasing. 8. Hisselly-hisselly; sibilent, whispered phrases arranged as in song. It is associated with courtship apparently. The hiss may also be given in one long syllable, repeated slowly with downward inflection. 9. Sssp; a faint, trembling hiss, a refinement of the shriek (4) often given when a bird starts away in flight, and at the close of the day as it flies to its roost. 10. A low, sobbing note with a deep undertone; a note of trouble. A modification of the tut or huh, but clearly recognizable in quality and slow delivery as an entity. It is given when a cat is prowling near.
Tilford Moore tells in his notes of June 19, 1941, of a young robin's attempt at song: "He was in our lilac, not three feet from our dining room window, facing us, so we could see his speckled breast moving with his song. The song was a squeaky and quiet effort, much like the baby feeding cry in tone, but definitely a song after the adult morning song pattern."
Enemies: The three following reports show that snakes are sometimes enemies of the robin: Ethel M. Spindler (1933) states that three young robins were taken from a nest 13 feet from the ground and swallowed by two blacksnakes; Laura Raymond Strickland (1934) saw a blacksnake eat a robin's egg; and Harold B. Wood (1937) writes of a robin strangled by a snake, Liopeltis vernalis. "The snake was wound so tightly around the bird's neck, by four complete turns, that it could not be shaken loose."
Ruthven Deane (1878) quotes from a letter written by the granddaughter of Audubon describing a "deadly combat" between a robin and a mole in which, apparently, they killed each other.
C. M. Arnold (1907), at a time when English sparrows were more abundant than they are at present, calls attention to their habit of following a robin about and snatching earthworms away from it.
John Lewis Childs (1913) notes the destruction of robins by "the most severe electric storm I have ever witnessed." It "annihilated the Robins that live in the trees about my lawn. Thirty-six were picked up the next morning on about an acre of ground, and others in the near vicinity brought the total up to about fifty. The English Sparrows were very abundant also but very few were killed; the Starlings escaped uninjured as far as I can learn. * * * The birds were evidently blown out of the trees where they were roosting and perished from the awful wetting they were subjected to on the ground."
Predatory hawks often capture robins. Walter Faxon, years ago, was standing in his garden watching a robin, near at hand, running over the grass. Suddenly, like a thunderbolt, a little sharp-shinned hawk struck the robin, pinning it to the ground and covering it all over with its open wings. Mr. Faxon frightened the hawk away, but the robin was dead, killed in an instant, its life snuffed out by a bird no larger than itself.
The domestic cat is the most destructive enemy of the birds that breed about our houses. It has been estimated that a cat will capture, on an average, 50 birds in a season, and the helpless young robins provide a large part of the kill.
Herbert Friedmann (1929) says of the robin in relation to the cowbird: "Probably an uncommon victim. It is hard to state definitely the extent to which this bird is affected by the Cowbird because the parasitic eggs are practically always thrown out. Half a dozen or more records from New York, Connecticut, Iowa, North Dakota, and Alberta have come to my notice."
Harold S. Peters (1933 and 1936) reports the presence in the plumage of the robin of 17 species of external parasites -- lice 6, flies 4, ticks 2, and mites 5.
In former times a great number of robins were shot for food. Audubon (1841) says: "In all the Southern States, * * * their presence is productive of a sort of jubilee among the gunners, and the havoc made among them with bows and arrows, blowpipes, guns, and traps of different sorts, is wonderful. Every gunner brings them home by bagsful, and the markets are supplied with them at a very cheap rate. Several persons may at this season stand round the foot of a tree loaded with berries, and shoot the greater part of the day, so fast do the flocks of Robins succeed each other. They are then fat and juicy, and afford excellent eating."
Fall: Of the behavior of robins (luring the late summer and autumn William Brewster (1906) says:
Soon after rearing their second broods of young: most of which are able to shift for themselves before the middle of August: our Robins change not only their haunts but their habits, also. Abandoning their diet of earthworms, and assembling in flocks, they now range widely over the country hi search of berries of various kinds, on which they subsist almost wholly during the remainder of the year. It is true that they revisit our city gardens in early September when the rum cherries are ripe, and that even later in the year we occasionally see them running about in the old familiar way over our lawns and flower-beds, but throughout the autumn they spend most of their time in retired fields, pastures and woodlands, or in swampy thickets bordering brooks and meadows Most if not all of our local-bred birds depart for the south before the close of October. In November their places are taken by migrants from further north, which sometimes appear suddenly in immense flocks and, after literally flooding die country for several successive days, pass on further to the southward. Robins are ordinarily scarcer in December than at any other season, and occasionally they are almost wholly absent during that month.
Francis Beach White (1937), speaking of the "stragglers in the woods" late in summer, says: "It is now that their habits undergo a complete change, for these birds are now like different beings, shy, furtive, wary, excitable. You may hear a rustling in the foliage, a soft 'whut-whut', and all vanish unseen, or you may come on one that assumes the motionless pose of a Hermit Thrush on a branch in a dim thicket."
There are days also in mid-September when a furor of excitement seems to possess the flocks of robins in the woods. They are restless and noisy, moving about high in time trees, and making long flights in companies of half a dozen or more: a businesslike air of migration pervades the gatherings.
On September 4,1931, Wendell Taber (MS.) saw robins in actual migration. He was on time tableland on Mount Katahdin, Maine, at an elevation of 4,300 feet in a dense fog when 24 robins flew past him, near together, at close range in a southerly direction, lie says (MS.): "Visibility was limited to a few yards, and I have no doubt that I saw only a small part of time flight. A deviation of a few miles to either side would have avoided passing over the high range."
Winter: Most of the robins pass southward in fall to spend the winter in the milder climate of the Middle Atlantic and Gulf States, but occasionally flocks of considerable size remain in the Northern States and eastern Canada where they are exposed to very low temperatures. They have been reported as present during the winter in the Province of Quebec, Canada, by Napoleon A. Comeau (1891), in southern Maine by Nathan Clifford Brown (1911), in the Upper Mississippi Valley by Miss Althea R. Sherman (1912), and in Nova Scotia by Harrison F. Lewis (1919).
In the Southern States robins gather in almost incredible numbers. Mrs. Lotta T. Melcher (MS.) writes to Mr. Bent of watching robins flying to a winter roost in Florida. She estimated that no fewer than 50,000 birds assembled to spend the night "in low evergreen bushes, in a cypress swamp." She says: "I could think of nothing but being out in a snowstorm whose giant flakes never came to the ground."
Lester W. Smith (MS.) also writes of the invasions of robins during the winter. "When a cold snap descends into the Florida peninsula," he says, "with real truck-killing effect, there may come an invasion of robins. A multitude of robins appears suddenly on the lawns, and particularly in and under the cabbage palmetto trees, for it is on the abundant, wild-cherrylike fruit of this native palm that the robins feed, regardless of the protestations of the resident mockingbirds. When the robins arrive here in vast numbers, the cabbage palms of the entire district are soon stripped of their fruit."
Julian D. Corrington (1922), speaking of the bird in winter in Mississippi, says: "The Robin here is by no means a bird of the lawns and gardens as in the north in summer, but is as wild as the wildest and frequents only remote districts for feeding and roosting."
Otto Widmann (1895) gives this interesting account of a winter robin roost in Missouri, a contrast to the summer roosts of the north:
The lower parts of the marsh, with the exception of the slough itself, are overgrown with reeds five feet high, bending over in all directions. These reeds are matted into a regular thicket which is not easily penetrated. In the fall the reeds are dry and yellow, some cinnamon and even dark chestnut brown.
It is in these reeds that the Robin finds a safe retreat for the night, sheltered equally well from wind and cold, rain and snow, and comparatively safe from prowling enemies. During the day nothing betrays the roost. Not a Robin is seen in the neighborhood all forenoon and for several hours of the afternoon. An hour or two before sunset a few may arrive and stay in the trees along King's Lake, but nobody would suspect anything extraordinary until half an hour before sunset when the great influx begins.
The new arrivals no more fly to the trees but alight on the ground, some in the wheat field, some in the meadows, some on the corn and hay stacks, but the majority flies directly into the reeds, while the others shift from place to place until they, too, disappear. They do not come in troops like Blackbirds, but the whole air seems for a while to be filled with them, and standing in the marsh, one can easily see that they come from all points of the compass, all aiming toward a certain tract of reeds, a piece of about forty acres on some of the lowest ground where the last remains of water are now vanishing, leaving heaps of dead and dying fishes in the puddles (mostly dog, cat, and buffalo fishes).
When unmolested the Robins are not long in settling down and out of sight amongst the high and thickly matted reeds, and it is not nearly dark when the last has disappeared and nothing indicates the presence of so many thousand Robins hut an occasional clatter, soon to give way to entire silence. If one enters their domain at night, they start with a scold, one by one, and not until one approaches very closely, to drop down again at no great distance.
Associating with them in the roost sleep a goodly number of Rusty Blackbirds, while the Bronzed Grackles keep somewhat apart. They arrive in troops with the last Robins and leave also a little later in the morning.
Range: From extreme northern continental America to Guatemala.
Breeding range: The robin breeds north to Alaska (Cape Prince of Wales, rarely, the Jade Mountains, Alatna, Fort Yukon, and the Porcupine River); northern Yukon (Old Crow River and Lapierre House); northern Mackenzie (east branch of the Mackenzie Delta, possibly the Arctic coast at Kittigazuit, Fort Anderson, Horton River, Coppermine River at latitude 670 20' N., and the Thelon River); northern Manitoba (Cochrane River, Churchill, and York Factory); northern Ontario (Fort Severn and Moose Factory); and northern Quebec (Great Whale River, Chimo, and Port Burwell, rarely). East to northern Quebec (Port Burwell); the coast of Labrador (Okkak, Nain, Hopedale, Rigolet, and Henley Harbor); Newfoundland (St. Anthony, Humber River, and St. John's); Nova Scotia (Sidney, Halifax, and Yarmouth, occasionally Sable Island); the Atlantic Coast States south to North Carolina (Raleigh, and has occurred in summer near Cape Fear). South to North Carolina (Raleigh end Charlotte); northern South Carolina (Rock Hill, Spartanburg, and Greenville; rarely Columbia); northern Georgia (Brasstown Bald); northern Alabama (Anniston and Birmingham; rarely Montgomery); northern Mississippi (Aberdeen); central and western Arkansas (Helena, Hot Springs, Arkadelphia, and Delight); eastern Texas (Tyler, Waco, Houston, and Somerset) ; western Tamaulipas (Galindo); western Veracruz (Las Vegas, Jalupa, Cordoba, and Orizaba); and Oaxaca (Totontepec and Mount Zempoaltepec). West to Oaxaca (Mount Zempoaltepec); Guerrero (Chilpancingo); Jalisco (Sierra de Nayarit); Nayarit (Santa Teresa); western Durango (Durango and El Salto); western Chihuahua (Pinos Altos); eastern Sonora (Alamos, Mina Abundancis, and Oposura); eastern and central Arizona (Hunchuca Mountains, Tucson, Santa Catalina Mountains, and Prescott); southern California (Redlands, Los Angeles, and Mount Pinos), the mountains and interior valleys and the Pacific coast from Monterey northward; the Coast Range and Willamette Valley to northwestern Oregon (Pinehurst, Fort Klamath, Corvallis, Portland, Tillamook, and Astoria); western Washington (Vancouver, Cape Disappointment, Clallam Bay, Lake Crescent, Seattle, and Blame); British Columbia (Vancouver Island, Metlakatla, Inverness, and Queen Charlotte Islands); and Alaska (Sitka, Yakutat, Kenai Peninsula, Nushagak, Bethel, Yukon Delta, St,~ Michael, Nome, and Cape Prince of Wales).
Winter range: The robin winters with considerable regularity in suitable localities north to southern British Columbia (Vancouver Island; Victoria and Comox, Port Moody, and the Okanagan Valley); Washington (Blame and Spokane); southern Idaho (Meridian), northern Utah (Bear Lake and Utah Lake Valleys); southwestern and eastern Colorado (Durango, Beulab, Colorado Springs, Denver, and Boulder); southeastern Wyoming (Laramie and Wheatland); southeastern Nebraska (Red Cloud, Lincoln, rare, and Nebraska City); central Missouri (Kansas City, Marshall, and St. Charles); southern Illinois (Alton and Olney); southern Indiana (Terre Haute, Bloomington, and Richmond); central Ohio (Columbus); central West Virginia (Parkersburg and Charleston); and central Virginia (New Market, Variety Mills, and Bowers Hill). East to the Atlantic coast from Virginia (Bowers Hill) to southern Florida (Royal Palm Park). South to southern Florida (Royal Palm Park) and the Gulf coast from Florida to Texas (Galveston, Victoria, and Brownsville); Tamaulipas (Matamoros); southern Veracruz (Tuxia); and Guatemala (Coban and the Sierra Santa Elena). West to Guatemala (Sierra Santa Elena); Oaxaca (Coixtiahuaca); Jalisco (Zapotlan and Bolaflos); Sonora (San Josh de Guaymas, Sonoyta, and El Doctor); northern Lower California (Rosario and Ensenada); and the Pacific coast of California (Los Angeles, Watsonville, and San Francisco); Oregon (Fort Klamath, Corvallis, Salem, Portland, and Astoria); Washington (Grays Harbor, Olympia, Seattle, and Everett); and southwestern British Columbia (Vancouver Island).
In addition, the robin sometimes occurs in winter north to northern Idaho (Coeur d'Alene); Montana (Kalispell and Billings); southeastern South Dakota (Yankton); southern Minnesota (Minneapolis and Red Wing); southern Wisconsin (La Crosse, Madison, and Milwaukee); southern Michigan (Ann Arbor and Detroit); southern Ontario (London, Toronto, and Ottawa); southern Quebec (Quebec, Kamouraska, Godhout, and Bonaventure Island); and Newfoundland (St. John's).
The distribution as outlined is for the entire species, which has been separated into several subspecies or geographic races. The typical race, the eastern robin (T. m. migratorius), breeds from western Alaska, northern Mackenzie, northern Manitoba, southern Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia south to southern Alaska, central British Columbia, central Alberta, central Oklahoma, northern Arkansas, central Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, and south in the mountains to northern Georgia. The black-backed robin (T. m, nigrideus) breeds in northeastern Quebec, Labrador, and Newfoundland; the southern robin (T. m. achrusterus) breeds from southern 4 Illinois and Maryland south to northern Mississippi, central Alabama, and northern South Carolina except in the higher mountains; the northwestern robin (T. m. caurinus) breeds from Glacier Bay, southeastern Alaska, in the humid, coastal belt south to northern and western Washington. The western robin (T. m. propinquus) breeds from southeastern British Columbia to the eastern Rocky Mountains to extreme western Texas, western Chihuahua, and eastern Sonora. Other races occur in Mexico.
Migration: Some late dates of spring departure from the winter home are: Florida: Pensacola, April 13. Georgia: Macon, April 21. South Carolina: Aiken, April 6. Louisiana: New Orleans, April 21. Mississippi: Oakvale, April 5. Texas: San Antonio, April 10. Oklahoma: Kenton, April 13.
Some early dates of spring arrival are: District of Columbia: Washington, February 25. West Virginia: Charleston, February 26. Pennsylvania: State College, February 22. New York: Plattsburg, March 16. Massachusetts: Stockbridge, March 10. Vermont: Burlington, March 11. Maine: Macbias, March 14. Nova Scotia: I Halifax, March 26. New Brunswick: Chatham, March 25. Quebec: Kamouraska, March 20. Prince Edward Island: North Bedeque, March 31. Newfoundland: St. John's, April 6. Kentucky: Versailles, February 20. Illinois, Chicago, February 21. Ohio: Toledo, February 7. Michigan: Grand Rapids, March 3. Ontario: Toronto, March 8. Missouri: Kansas City, February 28. Iowa: Sioux City, February 28. Wisconsin: Madison, March 5. Minnesota: Red Wing, March 1. Manitoba: Winnipeg, March 13. Kansas: Onaga, March 5. Nebraska: Omaha, February 10. South Dakota: Yankton, March 1 North Dakota: Fargo, March 22. Saskatchewan: McLean, March 31. Mackenzie: East Branch Mackenzie River Delta, May 15. Colorado: Denver, February 16. Utah: Salt Lake City, March 14. Wyoming: Yellowstone Park, March 11. Idaho: Rathdrum, February 19. Montana: Great Falls, March 11. Alberta: Banff, March 25. Yukon: Dawson, May 9. Alaska: Kobuk River, May 20.
Some late dates of fall departure are: Alaska: Kobuk River, September 7. Mackenzie: Simpson, November 17. Alberta: Belvedere, October 28. Montana: Missoula, November 21. Wyoming: Laramie, November 20. Colorado: Boulder, November 2. Saskatchewan: Eastend, October 24. Manitoba: Aweme, November 8. North Dakota: Charison, November 2. South Dakota: Sioux Falls, November 26. Nebraska: Red Cloud, October 17. Kansas: Hays, November 6. Minnesota: St. Paul, November 15. Wisconsin: La Crosse, November 28. Iowa: National, November 14. Missouri: Independence, November 13. Ontario: Ottawa, November 21. Michigan: Detroit, October 31. Ohio: Oberlin, November 28. Prince Edward Island: North River, November 15. Quebec: Quebec, November 10. New Brunswick: St. John, November 15. Nova Scotia: Wolfville, November 9. Maine: Portland, November 8. Massachusetts: Boston, November 23. New York: Rochester, November 27. Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh, November 7. District of Columbia: Washington, November 12.
Some early dates of fall arrival are: South Carolina: Charleston, October 20. Georgia: Savannah, October 15. Alabama: Prattville, October 19. Arkansas: Winslow, October 1. Louisiana: New Orleans, September 12. Mississippi: Biloxi, October 13.
Records from banded robins show that the migration is by no means a strictly north-and-south movement but that individuals, at least, deviate considerably from that line. Records of 340 individuals banded on their breeding grounds and recovered the following winter give the following results: In Virginia the 3 recoveries include 1 from Nova Scotia, 1 from Massachusetts, and 1 from South Dakota. In North Carolina the 23 recoveries include 5 from Massachusetts, 3 from New York, 4 from New Jersey, 6 from Pennsylvania, 1 from the District of Columbia,. 1 from Ontario, 1 from Ohio, I from Illinois, and 1 from Wisconsin. The 23 recoveries in South Carolina include 1 from Nova Scotia, 1 from Quebec, 2 from Massachusetts, 4 from New York, 2 from New Jersey, 5 from Pennsylvania, 3 from Ontario, 2 from Ohio, 1 from Michigan, 1 from Indiana, and 1 from Tennessee. The 38 birds recovered in Georgia include 1 from Nova Scotia, 2 from Quebec, 1 from Connecticut, 3 from New York, 3 from New Jersey, 6 from Pennsylvania, 1 from the District of Columbia, 3 from Ontario, 4 from Ohio, 3 from Michigan, 3 from Indiana, 4 from Illinois, 1 from Wisconsin, 1 from North Dakota, 1 from Kentucky, and 1 from Tennessee. Florida has 31 recoveries including 4 from Massachusetts, 1 from Rhode Island, 2 from New York, 1 from New Jersey, 9 from Pennsylvania, 2 from Ohio, 2 from Michigan, 1 from Indiana, 7 from Illinois, and 2 from Wisconsin. The 28 recoveries in Alabama include 1 from Massachusetts, 1 from New York, 1 from New Jersey, 3 from Pennsylvania, 3 from Ohio, 4 from Michigan, 3 from Indiana, 5 from Illinois, 4 from Wisconsin, 1 from Minnesota, end 2 from North Dakota. Mississippi has 29 recoveries including 1 from New York, 2 from Pennsylvania, 3 from Ohio, S from Indiana, 2 from Michigan, 8 from Illinois, 1 from Wisconsin, 1 from North Dakota, 2 from Kentucky, 1 from Iowa, 2 from Saskatchewan, and 1 from British Columbia. The largest number of recoveries, 86, is from Louisiana and includes 2 from Massachusetts, 2 from New York, 1 from Ontario, 8 from Ohio, 8 from Indiana, 6 from Michigan, 24 from Illinois, 10 from Wisconsin, 6 from Minnesota, 3 from South Dakota, 7 from North Dakota, 2 from Manitoba, 1 from Saskatchewan, 3 from Iowa, 1 from Missouri, and 2 from Tennessee. The 25 recoveries in Arkansas include 1 from Ohio, 2 from Michigan, 2 from Indiana, 8 from Illinois, 3 from Wisconsin, 4 from Minnesota, 1 from South Dakota, 1 from North Dakota, 1 from Iowa, and 2 from Missouri. The 43 recoveries in Texas include 1 from Ohio, 2 from Indiana, 2 from Michigan, 9 from Illinois, 3 from Wisconsin, 1 from Minnesota, 3 from South Dakota, 6 from North Dakota, 4 from Manitoba, 1 from Saskatchewan, 10 from Iowa, and 1 from Missouri. The 5 recoveries in Oklahoma include 1 from Saskatchewan, 1 from South Dakota, 2 from Iowa, and 1 from Missouri. The 2 recoveries in California are 1 each from Alberta and British Columbia. Many other records that show longer elapsed time between the dates of banding and recovery serve to confirm the evidence of those cited.
Several records are sufficiently interesting to warrant detailed citation. A robin banded at Groton, Mass., on October 24, 1940, was found in Bladen County, N. C., on November 24, 1940; one banded at Germantown, Pa., on March 25, 1928, was recovered at Torquay, near Selbys Cove, Newfoundland; one banded at Summerville, S. C., on March 23, 1934, was killed on May 26, 1934, at Fond du Lac, Wis.; one banded at Nashville, Tenn., on March 25, 1940, was found dead about June 19, 1940, at Gowanda, N. Y.; one banded at Blue Island, Cook County, Ill., on October 8,1938, was found dead April 14, 1939, at Salisbury, Somerset County, Pa.; a young bird banded September 3,1935, at Aberdeen, S. Dak., was found dead May 24, 1936, at Plentywood, Mont.; one banded at Modesto, Calif., on February 26, 1939, was found April 25,1939, at Vernonia, Oreg.; one banded at Pasadena, Calif., on February 23, 1933, was killed about June 22, 1934, at West Jordan, Utah; one banded in Yosemite National Park, Calif., on February 21, 1934, was killed by a hawk on May 25, 1934, at Sandpoint, Idaho; one banded at Crystal Bay, Lake Minnetonka, Minn., on July 7, 1924, was killed December 17, 1925, at Pachuca, Hidalgo, Mexico; one banded at Fargo, N. Dak., on September 27, 1937, was shot on January 31, 1940, at Villa Ocampa, Coahuila, Mexico; and one banded at Barkerville, British Columbia, on May 27, 1929, was found February 1,1930, at Chunky, Miss. In the case of the last record the band was forwarded to the Biological Survey.
Casual records: The robin has been recorded three times on St. Paul Island, Alaska, from 1872 to September 15, 1919. It has been collected twice at Point Barrow, Alaska, on May 14, 1930, and in the summer of 1931. One was reported at Herschel Island, Yukon, many years ago. One was reported at Warren Point, Mackenzie, 200 miles from Pearce Point, on June 19, 1917; and a specimen was collected near the mouth of the Kogaryuak River, Coronation Gulf, on June 19,1911.
Four specimens have been recorded from Greenland: Specimens taken at Q6rnoq near Godthaab about 1865; at Sukkertoppen about 1881; at Graedefjord on September 26, 1899; and at Kangek, Godthaab Fjord, between October 7 and 21, 1944. The last specimen was identified as nigrideus, and it is quite probable that the others were also of this race. The robin is a straggler to Cuba, three records; and it has been collected in Bermuda in five different years. There are several European records, in Ireland, England, and Germany.
Egg dates: Alaska: 8 records, May 26 to June 15.
California: 46 records, April 6 to July 14; 24 records, May 1~ to June 17, indicating the height of the season.
Colorado: 21 records, May 10 to July 15; 11 records, May 24 to June 10. Illinois: 29 records, April 18 to July 20; 15 records, April 29 to May 17.
Massachusetts: 50 records, April 28 to July 1; 25 records, May 17 to May 30.
TURDUS MIGRATORIUS ACHRUSTERUS (Batchelder)
Charles F. Batchelder (1900) in naming this subspecies gave as its characters: "Size considerably less than in M. migratoria. Colors in general much lighter and duller." Then follows a detailed description. Ridgway (1907) describes it more concisely as follows: "Adult male with black of head broken by more or less broad grayish margins to feathers; gray of back duller and browner, rarely, if ever, with blackish centers to feathers; color of breast, etc., tawny-ochraceous to tawny cinnamon-rufous. Adult female with grayish margins to feathers of head broader, sometimes nearly concealing the central dusky areas, and color of breast, etc., yellowish ocbraceous-biiff to tawny-ochraceous. Young paler in color than that of P. m. migratorius, with under parts largely (sometimes mostly) whitish and less heavy spotted."
At the time Batchelder described this form, the details of its distribution had not been worked out, but he was safe in stating that "probably all the robins breeding in the Carolinas and Georgia, outside of the mountain region of these States, will prove to belong to the new form, while those that pass the summer among the mountains, and in the low country of the adjacent region to the north, may be expected to be variously intermediate between it and true migratoria."
The 1931 Check-list gives it as breeding "from southern Illinois and Maryland to northern Mississippi, central Alabama, northern Georgia, and upper South Carolina." Recent investigations (Wetmore, 1937 and 1940) have shown that the southern robin breeds at the lower elevations at least as far north as West Virginia and Kentucky, where it begins to intergrade with the northern form.
Although generally considered to be a bird of the lower levels, it occurs on the tops of some of the higher southern mountains, notably Mount Mitchell, which rises to a height of 6,684 feet in western North Carolina. There, according to Thomas D. Burleigh (1941), it is:
a fairly plentiful breeding bird in the fir and spruce woods at the top of the mountain where, to one familiar with this species about the lawns in towns and cities, it seems et first rather out of place. Its arrival in the spring is influenced to a certain extent by the weather, and while it invariably appears by the latter part of March a relatively mild winter, as in 1933-34, has seen its return as early as March 8. It is rarely observed after the last brood of young are fully grown, the one exception being a flock of twenty birds noted October 28, 1932. It is possible that two broods are reared for a nest found June 3,1930, held three well-incubated eggs, while on August 10, 1931, young barely able to fly were seen being fed by the two adult birds. There are no records for the occurrence of the northern race here, all specimens taken 1)0th in the spring and in the fall being clearly referable to T. m. achrusterus.
A. L. Pickens writes to me from Paducah, Ky.:
One of the most remarkable extensions of range that I have observed is that made in recent decades by the southern robin. Early in the present century the robin, in the South Carolina Piedmont, was regarded as a harbinger of cold weather. They descended from the mountains and the more northern areas to feed on chinaberries especially; and some were reputed to have become intoxicated from eating the fermented fruit, a condition which I personally never observed. As the smaller towns installed civic waterworks and water was available for lawns, and incidentally for earthworms, robins apparently began to spread, as inhabitants of cities and towns, until they may now be found in summer, even far down on the coast plain. In wet summers, when pastures are lawnlike, the birds may be found even out among the farms six and seven miles from town; but let a dry summer succeed and they yield the areas of farmland held the season before.
The reader is also referred to an extensive paper by Odum and Burleigh (1946) on this general subject, which is too long to be quoted here.
Nesting: M. G. Vaiden, of Rosedale, Miss., writes to me that he finds the southern robin a very common nesting bird within the city limits. There are at least 50 or 75 pairs nesting in the town. They seem to be content to nest on limbs that reach out over the streets, and the passing cars, trucks, and other vehicles do not seem to disturb them. Their territory of defense seems to be the side of the tree in which their nest is constructed. His first nest was located in a cedar tree some 8 feet up and within 3 feet of the end of a limb. Another, near his house, was 25 feet from the ground and within 5 feet from the end of a limb that was about 15 feet long. This nest was on the top of the limb with only a small twig to support it on the south side and no support whatever on the north side.
He tells of another pair that started to build their nest on March 16 but did no more work on it after the next morning, apparently having given up the idea of nesting. On March 28 there was a heavy rain; and on the next day the robins worked hard carrying mud and completed the nest on April 1. There was no mud available in the vicinity until the rain came, and the birds had to wait for it. He says that the robins nest there in April, May, June, and the early part of July, but mainly in May and June. He is quite positive that two broods are raised there in a season.
Margaret Morse Nice (1930-31) says that in Norman, Okla., the southern robin is an "increasingly common summer resident. We have records of 48 nests. In 1921 there were eight nests with complete sets before the end of March, the earliest being March 23; but most seasons the first eggs are found during the first week in April. * * * In four cases there have been 4 eggs, in eleven cases 3. Seventeen elms have been chosen, two maples, two walnuts, one box elder and one apple tree. One nest was built at a height of 3 feet, two at 8, three at 10, one at 12, five at 15, three at 20 and three at 25, the average being 15 feet."
Eggs: The eggs of the southern robin, usually three or four to the set, are practically indistinguishable from those of its northern relative. The measurements of 21 eggs average 27.9 by 20.0 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 29.5 by 20.9, 29.2 by 21.3, and 25.7 by 18.5 millimeters.
Young: Mr. Vaiden tells me that the young in a nest near his house hatched on June 29, 1942; "on July 10, a frisky youngster dropped from the nest to the ground and the parents fed it for two days, along with the one in the nest, until it moved out of our yard. The second bird left the nest by coaxing from the parents on July 13, at 1:33 p. m. The date of hatching was accepted as the first day of actual feeding which we observed. Only two birds seemed to have reached maturity in this nest, as no others were observed being fed as we watched them through binoculars."
Food: Mr. Vaiden says in his notes: "We have several chinaberry trees within the town limits, yet I do not find the robins that migrate through the Delta as fond of the berry of the chinaberry tree as I observed years ago in the bill section. I have seen the robin gorge himself with berries until he would fall to the ground; and we were told at that time that they were drunk from eating the berries of the chinaberry tree.
"I find great concentrations, such as 200 to 300 robins, feeding on the levee after it has been burned over late in the winter; probably the levee has a certain type of soft soil where they find plenty of worms to feed upon. Robins are not great seed-eaters, but I have found many weed and grass seeds in the stomachs of the birds dissected. I have found the seeds of Johnson grass, coco: grass, Bermuda grass, giant ragweed, and dwarf ragweed on many occasions."
Enemies: Dr. Friedmann (1934) records two instances in which the southern robin had served as a host for the eastern cowbird.
TURDUS MIGRATORIUS CAURINUS (Grinnell)
In describing this subspecies, Dr. Grinnell (1909) says that the "full-plumaged male resembles Planesticus migratorius migratorius of corresponding plumage in the matter of size and darkness of coloration, the latter being excessive, but lacks the extended white patch on inner web of outer tail feathers; resembles Planesticus miqratorius propinquus in the extremely narrow white tippings of the outer tail feathers, but coloration much darker and size smaller. In other words, this new form shares some characters of both, but presents in addition an extreme darkness of coloration seldom or never found in even migratorius. Young very much darker than in either migratorius or propinquus."
Dr. Grinnell's specimens all came from southern Alaska, but the race is now known to extend its range southward in the humid coast region through British Columbia and Washington. According to some extensive notes on western robins received from Samuel F. Rathbun, the paler race, propinquus, would seem to be the common breeding form in western Washington, at least in the older and more settled regions of the interior, the darker race, caurinus, occurring there mainly in fall, winter, and spring. "But no line of demarcation can be drawn between these two forms of robins as to their distribution; they intermingle wherever found, although in some localities one or the other may predominate in numbers."
Based on his 20 years of observation, Mr. Rathbun sums up the status of the two forms (MS.) as follows: "I feel safe in saying that the robins so commonly seen from early spring until well into October, in and about the long reclaimed and older settled sections of the region, almost always represent propinquus; but associated with this form during the rest of the year will be seen numbers of what can be regarded as caurinus, for both are common residents of the region, although apparently each differs to some degree in its distribution.
"Ordinarily, the robins found in the wilder parts of western Washington, and in and about the tracts of heavy coniferous forest, particularly if such have more or less of a growth of spruce, can be regarded as caurinus. In particular, this appears to be the case within the Olympic Peninsula, where what seems to me to be caurinus is the prevailing form throughout the year; and, although I have found it quite well distributed here, it seemed as if the height of its abundance was in the spruce, or so designated 'coastal belt,' along the Pacific Ocean, where also the varied thrush is found to be so common. By 'coastal belt' is meant a rather wide strip extending inland from the Pacific coast, a section of heavy rainfall; the U. S. Weather Bureau records show that this strip has an annual precipitation of 75 inches or more; in fact, there are records of 150 inches at Clearwater, not far north of Lake Quinault.
"Then, at the approach of autumn, caurinus commences to scatter widely to the Sound region and adjacent sections. But, at its nesting period, the farther east from the coast, the less common is caurinus. One never sees it in summer in the backyard, for then the robin is propinquus."
Spring: The northwestern robin does not seem to be permanently resident in southern Alaska, but to be, at least partially, migratory. The only specimens definitely recorded in Mr. Rathbun's Washington notes were taken in spring, March 19 and April 16. He says that it is "not uncommon in springy' and that it "is quite often seen in the forest, from the west end of Lake Crescent to the Pacific Ocean. No matter how dense the forest, or how far distant one may be from any clearing or habitation, at times robins will be seen, and as a general thing they resemble this race.”
George Willett writes to me that this robin arrives in southeastern Alaska mostly in April and leaves in October; but he has seen it occasionally during the winter months; he has seen it at Craig on January 29 and March 16, 1923, on December 11, 1924, and on February 23 and 24, 1925, only a single bird in each case.
Alfred M. Bailey (1927) writes: "Robins are very common throughout the summer, and were first noted at Wrangell April 13, when half a dozen were seen feeding in a garden; they were abundant by April 26. Mrs. Bailey recorded her first Robins at Juneau April 14, and they were common a week later. * * * Mr. Gray tells me that Robins have wintered, occasionally, at Wrangell."
Nesting: Mr. Willett (MS.) took a set of four slightly incubated eggs at Ketchikan on May 30, 1925; the nest was placed 7 feet up against the trunk of a young spruce tree on a hillside; the nest was made of grass and twigs and lined with fine grass; its external measurements were 150 by 85 millimeters, and the inner cavity measured 90 by 55 millimeters.
Mr. Rathbun (MS.) tells me that he has found "more than a few nests of caurinus" in the coastal strip in western Washington, as described above, and says: "From the first one I discovered, I noted that without an exception, the nest proper always rested on a platform or base of twigs, similar to the nest of Steller's jay or the varied thrush, and in this respect it differed from that of propinquus."
Eggs: Tbe northwestern robin usually lays thee or four eggs, which are similar in every way to those of the eastern bird. The measurements of 40 eggs average 29.5 by 21.1 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 32.5 by 20.2, 29.9 by 22.5, 27.9 by 22.2, and 28.5 by 19.5 millimeters.
Food: The food of the northwestern robin is evidently of the same general character as that of other robins. 'Where it lives in settled communities it may be seen grubbing for worms on the lawI1, catching various kinds of noxious insects and their larvae, or taking what berries and fruit are available.
Wild fruits and berries of various kinds form most of the food in fall and winter. Dr. Bailey (1927) writes: "At Hooniah Sound, May 8--24, they were exceedingly plentiful, being the most common bird of the vicinity. They fed along the beaches exclusively, none being seen back in the woods, or on the muskegs; while droves worked the beaches like so many Sandpipers, in fact, we considered them as 'shore-birds' for the time being."
I. Mc. Cowan (1942) lists the northwestern robin as one of the species that feeds on the flying termites (Zootermopsis angusticollis). "In extreme southwestern British Columbia the extensive areas of deforested land, strewn with decaying logs and stumps, provides ideal habitat for termites." The robins and other birds "have been observed catching Z. angusticollis close to or on the ground."
G. D. Sprot (1926), of Cobble Hill, Vancouver Island, tells the following story: "On the 13th of June 1926 a Robin (Planesticus migratorius subsp. ?) slipped from its perch on a seat in my garden into the nearby shrubbery, returning to the lawn with a dead field mouse which it proceeded to beat upon the ground, endeavoring also, so it appeared, to crush it in its bill. Every now and then it would pick it up, run a short distance and repeat the motions. For five of ten minutes it kept this up, then lifting up the battered remains in its bill it swallowed them head first. It then remained rigid for a few seconds with the tail of the mouse still protruding. Having apparently discovered that it had not overdone it, it gave a flick with its bill, when the tail disappeared down its throat." He thought that his terrier might have caused the death of the mouse, rather than the robin!
Theed Pearse (MS.) adds fallen apples and pears, honeysuckle berries, and ripe seeds of dogwood to the food of this robin on Vancouver Island.
Behavior: Mr. Pearse has sent me the following account of a female robin that he saw "anting" on October 5, 1942, at Courtenay, Vancouver Island: It was "standing on top of a nest of red ants and kept picking up something, presumably an ant; it placed it on a primary, generally halfway up the feather, impressing the ant onto the feather as though trying to make it stick there. Occasionally the ant would be pushed into the feathers of the anal region. It was never seen to place the ant under the wing. The actions of the bird suggested that the ant was distasteful and the desire was to dispose of it as quickly as possible. Much of the time the bird held its wings quite loose from the body and, at times, was practically reclining on the surface of the ants' nest. Sometimes it appeared as if the bird were ruffling its feathers, as though bathing. It was watched for ten minutes until disturbed, and all this time it was anting. The day was very dull after a rain. An examination of the ant hill showed no disturbance, except where pecked at. There were only a few ants working then; later it became a seething mass, as the day became warmer, and probably any bird would hesitate to venture there then."
Fall: In his notes from western Washington Mr. Rathbun says: "In September, the first evidence of a tendency to gather together may be seen, and during October flocks will be noted. Among the later birds are individuals that may be regarded as caurinus, but there is no difficulty in distinguishing propinquus. These flocks roam about the country, evidently being first attracted to the localities that have food of the nature of the fruit borne by trees and shrubs, such as the mountain-ash, the dogwood, madrona, etc., these during the winter months being stripped clean. In sections lacking such food, robins will be missing to an extent; and, as the plants named vary in fruiting each year, this is reflected in the numbers of the birds seen."
Mr. Pearse tells me that, on Vancouver Island, there is an early southward migration from early in July until the middle of August. Late in December, there is, almost yearly, a flight of robins arriving weeks after all the resident robins and the earlier migrants have moved on; these are the birds that spend the winter. The regular migrants stay as long as berries are abundant. On January 23, 1942, there was a migration from the south; this was a very open winter. He heard robins singing as early as February 11, 1925, but does not usually hear them until about March 10. He has also heard them singing in October and November and as late as December 14.
TURDUS MIGRATORIUS PROPINQUUS Ridgway
According to the 1931 Check-list, the western robin "breeds mainly in the Canadian and Transition zones from southeastern British Columbia and Montana south to southern California, Jalisco, Oaxaca, and Vera Cruz, and from the Pacific coast east to the border of the Great Plains. Winters from southern British Columbia and Wyoming south to middle Lower California and to the highlands of Guatemala."
It probably intergrades with the eastern races somewhere near the western edge of the Great Plains, but all the robins that we collected in the Maple Creek region of southwestern Saskatchewan were referable to propinquus, though Professor Macoun referred the birds of that region to migratorius. North of the range outlined above, typical migratorius is the breeding form.
In Washington, the breeding ranges of propinquus and caurinus are more or less mixed; this distribution of the two races has been referred to under caurinus. It appears from Mr. Rathbun's (MS.) notes that, although caurinus breeds in the coniferous forests, especially on the Olympic Peninsula, the pale form of the robin, propinquus, is found everywhere throughout western Washington, from the Cascades to the Pacific, and seems to be the only breeding form in the older, more settled and more open regions.
The western robin is slightly paler both above and below than the eastern robin and decidedly paler than the northwestern robin, but the most conspicuous difference is that the white tips of the lateral tail feathers are entirely lacking, or reduced to a very narrow edge.
Before the prairies of the Middle West were settled and when the bison roamed in vast herds over the boundless grassy plains, the eastern robins bred in the northern woods of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota; but, as civilization moved westward and trees were planted about the ranches, the robins adapted themselves to the new and welcome conditions and made their summer homes near human dwellings in regions they had formerly passed over on migrations. Robins prefer to build their nests in trees or on suitable ledges to be found on human structures. Furthermore, they must have short grassy areas in which to forage. The treeless plains covered with long grass were not to their liking.
A similar extension of the breeding range of the western robin has taken place in California and other parts of the West and is apparently still continuing in the drier lowlands, where irrigation is reclaiming arid lands and where more lawns are being developed and planted with trees and shrubbery.
Under primitive conditions, while the lowlands were too dry to suit the robins, the summer haunts of the western robins were in the mountains, from 5,000 feet up to 12,000 feet, even to timberline; and in many of the wilder sections of the West such is still the case, especially in the mountain ranges of California and Arizona. Grinnell and Storer (1924) write: "Summer travellers in the Sierra Nevada recognize the Western Robin at once as characteristic of the mountains, inhabiting the small meadows which floor the openings in the coniferous forests; people who live in the foothills and valleys of California know the bird as a winter visitor to their orchards, fields, and gardens. Upon the establishment of towns within either its winter or summer range, the robin quickly becomes a dooryard bird, regardless of whether the dooryards are those of permanent houses or those of the ephemeral tent cities which, as in Yosemite Valley, grow and vanish with the passage of each summer." Similar primitive conditions were noted by Taylor and Shaw (1927) in Mount Rainier National Park, where "one is likely to find robins on open grass-covered areas, whether clearings in the thick timber, extensive alpine parks, or high ridges nearly at timberline. The robin's preference, however, seems to be for burns, where berry vines, decaying logs full of insects, and a wealth of other food-furnishing material are generously abundant."
Such were evidently the original breeding haunts of the western robin, but civilization has been encouraging changes and extension of range, which have been taking place even during the present century. Dr. Tracy I. Storer (1926) has published an extensive paper on this subject and states that up to 1915 "there were no known breeding records for Mann County, the San Francisco peninsula, the adjacent Bay region, or the Transition Zone of Monterey County. It seems very unlikely that the presence of the Robin as a nesting species could have escaped the attention of the numerous keen-eyed observers who have worked these areas during the preceding three decades."
He then goes on to cite a number of localities in California where the robin had extended its breeding range during the previous ten years, and explains some of the reasons for the changes.
The general summer range of the Rabin (as a species, as well as of the western subspecies, propinquus) everywhere includes territory where there is moist grassland (or its equivalent) in which this "soft-billed" bird can find soft-billed insect larvae or earthworms as food for itself and young during nesting time. This seems to be a prime requirement of the Robin. The original "natural" range of the Western Robin in California included only those parts of the State where damp meadows, with short grass in which the adults might seek their forage, persisted during the summer months. These areas vary from a few hundred square feet of grassland, as along the banks of small creeks, to large level tracts in the high Sierra Nevada, sometimes embracing several square miles of continuous grassland. The number of birds present in any given place usually seems to be proportional to the amount of such forage surface available.
Such favorable conditions had not previously prevailed in the regions to which the robin has recently extended its breeding range. "But with the development of lawns, with continued moisture supply and 'green feed,' various species of insects are able to persist there as larvae during the summer season. With irrigation, earthworms also are able to live up near the surface of the soil when normally they would be aestivating in deep burrows to avoid desiccation."
A. J. van Rossem (1942) was prompted by recent reports of robins nesting in the vicinity of Pasadena to state that a pair first nested on the grounds adjoining the residence of Donald R. Dickey in 1923; and he remarks significantly: "Generally speaking, it may be said that the transition of Pasadena from a small farming community to a residential city took place in the late 1890's and the early 1900's. It was thus about twenty-five years from the establishment of suitable territory until the robins first made use of it, although the species has always been common in summer in the Transition Zone in the immediately adjacent mountains.”
Migration: As many western robins spend the winter as far north as southern British Columbia, the migrations in the northern part of their range are not well marked as north and south migrations. At any tune during late fall and early winter, large flocks of robins may be seen moving about from one locality to another in search of suitable feeding grounds, their presence or absence in any one place being dependent on the supply of berries or other food. Thus their migrations are mainly local wanderings, coupled with a downward movement from the mountains in the fall and a return to the higher levels when the snows disappear in spring. Mr. Rathbun (MS.) tells me that, in western Washington, "about the close of winter, or sometime during the month of February, single robins or perhaps pairs of the birds will be seen again around the residence districts of the cities and towns."
In California conditions are somewhat similar, with great variations from year to year in the winter population of robins, depending on the food supply. But there the migration, especially in spring, is well marked. The robins that winter in Mexico and Guatemala have a long very to go to reach their breeding grounds, and large numbers are often seen flying north.
On February 11, 1929, I saw large flocks migrating over Pasadena flying high and headed northward. On March 6 and 7 large numbers of robins gathered in the camphortrees in front of my house; the trees were fairly alive with them. Others were seen flying about in loose flocks and were probably migrants.
Nesting: The nesting habits of the western robin are, in the main, very similar to those of its eastern relative. The nest may be placed anywhere from on the ground up to 75 feet in a tree, in bushes or in trees of many kinds, but most of the nests are not over 12 feet above the ground. Nests on structures erected by human beings seem to be less common than with the eastern bird. They are usually typical robin nests, made of the usual materials, including a liberal supply of mud, and firmly built. Mr. Rathbun (MS.) describes a poorly constructed nest that "was placed at a moderate height in the fork of a young alder, this crotch being filled with fresh leaves of the vanillaleaf (Achlys triphylla), with which were a few twigs. Next was a thin coating of mud, and its lining was an abundance of green grasses and a few dried ones. Very little skill was shown in the construction of this nest, my attention being attracted to it simply by seeing a mass of green leaves piled in the fork." Mrs. Wheelock (1904) says that the nests that she has "found have been somewhat different from those of the Eastern bird and very much prettier, being decorated with moss woven in the mud instead of straw, and carefully lined with moss. It is really a beautiful structure, with the mud practically concealed from view.
Dr. Walter P. Taylor (1912) says that, in northern Nevada, "nests were found on the ground and at various heights up to six feet above it, and were located in willow thickets, wild-rose bushes, sage-brush, quaking aspens, poplars (at Big Creek Ranch) and limber pines." Various other species of pines, spruces, and firs, as well as a variety of deciduous trees, have been occupied as nesting sites in other sections.
Joseph Mailliard (1930) had an opportunity to watch all the happenings at a robin's nest within 10 feet of his office window and published a full account of what took place from the building of the nest until the young left, to which the reader is referred. The nest was built in six days.
Eggs: The western robin is said to lay three to six eggs; three seems to be a commoner number than four, and the larger numbers are very rare. The eggs are indistinguishable from those of the eastern robin. The measurements of 40 eggs in the average 29.2 by 20.7 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 32.5 by 20.3, 30.9 by 22.4, and 23.4 by 17.3 millimeters.
Young: In the nest watched by Mr. Mailliard (1930) incubation was performed entirely by the female; this lasted for 14 days, during which time she left the nest only occasionally for 15 or 20 minutes at a time. The young were fed by both sexes, but mainly by the female, and left the nest in about two weeks. The young seemed to be troubled by some insect pest, so Mr. Mailliard tied a can to a long stick and sprinkled insect powder over the nest, after which the young seemed to be quieter.
Mrs. Wheelock (1904) asserts that the young are fed by regurgitation for the first four days and that by the fifth day "earthworms are given the nestlings after being broken into small mouthfuls, and, as the days go by, these worms as well as large insects are given whole."
James L. Ortega (1926) saw a robin apparently carrying water to its young on a very hot day, 100° in the shade. "It took a few swallows of water, then suddenly dipped its bill in the water and flew up into an acacia tree nearby. There its nest was situated, containing young robins. It didn't pause in its flight but flew straight to the nest, and I believe that it was carrying water to its young. It made repeated trips from the nest to the water pan, always flying rapidly and straight to the nest. However, on returning to the water it flew more slowly."
Grinnell and Storer (1924) relate the following incident:
A robin was seen to fly away from its nest nearby carrying in its bill something which looked like a mouse dangling by the tail. The bird happened to drop the object within the camp precincts and it proved to be a juvenile robin (with feathers still in the sheaths). The old robin had obtained a large piece of liver from a pile of discarded mammal bodies and had carried this material to the youngster as food. When the young bird had swallowed as much of the liver as it could hold, a portion still protruding [sic] from its mouth. The parent, in haste to clean the nest, had picked up the free end of the piece of liver, not appreciating the fact that the youngster had swallowed the other end, and had carried both the liver and the young robin out of the nest.
Bailey and Niedrach (1936) report two instances of western robins and house finches using the same nest. "In May, 1934, we were informed that House Finches were feeding young robins in a nest on a front porch in east Denver, Colorado. On investigation we found four half-grown robins, two newly batched finches and four finch eggs. There were two female finches apparently with the same mate, and the three finches and the two adult robins fed the young regularly. Unfortunately, however, the large robins smothered their small nest mates. We did not determine whether the four remaining eggs hatched. All three adult House Finches fed the young robins in the nest, and after the young had left the nest." In the other instance, the nest was on the back porch of Dr. Bailey's house, and here, too, the adult robins and the adult finches fed the young robins, though there was no evidence that the pair of finches had laid eggs in the nest.
Like the eastern robin, the western bird probably raises two broods in a season, and perhaps often three. J. Hooper Bowles (1927) has on two occasions known this robin to raise three broods; and once he saw three broods raised in the same nest, near Tacoma, Wash. This nest contained four well-grown young on May 20, three well-incubated eggs on June 12, and two new eggs on July 10. The three sets of young were apparently raised successfully, as the nest was frequently visited. The male always used the same singing perch near the nest; and the female, at first wild and noisy, became so tame that she had to be lifted off the nest.
Food: The western robin eats the same kinds of food as the eastern robin, but. naturally it includes many different species of insects, berries, and fruits. Professor Beal (1907), in his study of the food of California robins, had the stomachs of only 71 birds, collected in the winter months from November to April, inclusive. He found that, for the three winter months, the eastern robin eats 18 percent of animal food and 82 percent of vegetable; whereas the western bird eats 22 percent animal and 78 percent vegetable food during the same period, more insects being available on the Pacific coast than in the East at that season. Beetles, which amounted to 54 percent of the whole food in April, amounted to 13 percent for the six months. Caterpillars came next in importance, over 4 percent, and the remainder consisted of various insects and a few angleworms.
E. R. Kalmbach (1914) gives a better idea of the summer food of the robin, based on the examination of many stomachs collected in Utah during the months of April, May, June, and July. A large share of the food (14 percent) consisted of the destructive alfalfa weevil. Out of 45 April birds, 28 had eaten adults of this weevil and three others showed traces of it. "Caterpillars, many of which were cutworms, were taken with almost as great avidity as the weevil, occurring in 27 stomachs, but the larger size of these insects resulted in a much higher percentage, 23.24. One stomach contained at least 90 young caterpillars. Click beetles (Elateridae) and their larvae, wireworms, were found in 18 stomachs and amounted to 11.10 percent of the contents. One bird had eaten no less than 5 adults and 40 larvae of Limonius occidentalis. The other important elements of the animal food were earthworms (8.68 percent), flies (5.97), dung beetles (Scarabaeidae) (5.70), and ground beetles (3.97)."
During June, 17 stomachs contained 23.77 percent alfalfa weevils. One bird "destroyed 2 adults and 253 larvae, and the other 3 adults and about 241 larvae; the latter composed 80 percent of the food."
The examination of 18 robins collected in July showed a falling off in the number of these weevils eaten, but one stomach contained 2 adults and about 220 larvae. Caterpillars amounted to 37.72 percent, and earthworms made up nearly a fifth of the food.
I have often been asked whether a robin sees, or hears, or feels the worm, as we see it cocking its head to one side, then taking a few steps forward and extracting the unsuspecting worm from its burrow. Probably all three senses are used at different times, but I should think that eyesight might be the most important one. Claude T. Barnes tells me that he watched a robin feeding on a lawn where there was an incessant din of street cars and automobiles passing nearby, and it seemed as if the bird could not possibly hear the slight noise made by the worm.
Other items of animal food have been reported. Mrs. Bailey (1902) adds crickets and grasshoppers to the list of insects taken. Aretas A. Saunders (1916) saw a robin eating butterflies, which it swallowed wings and all; there were two species at a wet place, one yellow and black and the other cream color and black; he watched it for some time and "noticed that the yellow butterflies were the only ones eaten, although the others outnumbered them almost three to one." Charles W. Michael (1934) saw numbers of robins feeding on stranded fish at Mirror Lake, Yosemite, and says: "I saw the long isolated arm of the lake go dry, and I saw thousands of trout fry perish. * * * Scattered along the margin of the brown pool, feeding on the mud fiats like a company of sandpipers, were at times as many as nineteen robins. Occasionally a spotted robin would plunge in belly-deep to capture a fish. The old birds were content to stand on the shore and to pluck their fish when they came into shallow water. The fish taken by the robins were about two inches long. These fish they would toss out on the beach, mangle with their bill, beat on the ground, and otherwise soften before attempting to swallow. One robin was seen to capture and to consume four fish."
Mr. Rathbun mentions in his notes that the western robin eats the coddling moth and its larva, locusts, spiders, and snails.
During fall and winter the greater part of the robin's food consists of wild fruits and berries. Dawson (1923) writes: "The madrona tree (Arbutus menziesii) often fruits in such abundance that hordes of Robins can thrive upon it throughout the winter. Christmas berries (Heteromeles arbutifolia) are another staple of winter fare, while haws, service berries, cascara berries, and all available representatives of the genera Rhus, Prunus, Cornus, Pyrus, Celtis, Juniperus, and a dozen others, furnish their quota." On March 7,1929, the camphortrees in front of my house in Pasadena were alive with robins feasting on the profusion of black berries.
Claude T. Barnes writes to me: "Last year I planted along my back fence that vigorous climber known as the wild mockcucumber, or wild balsamapple (Echinocystis lobata). Its dried leaves and egg-shaped, prickly fruit still drape the fence in midwinter. Today (February 9, 1939), in the midst of one of the worst blizzards Salt Lake City has had in three years, robins were feeding on the vine. Each would fly to a seed pod, hover over it, like a hummingbird, peck until the seeds began to run, and then flutter below to pick the fallen seeds from the snow. No bird that I observed hovered in midair for more than 4 seconds. One bird performed the same feat in pecking something from an English ivy growing on the house wall."
Mr. Mailliard (1930) found seeds of the English ivy in the nest he was watching and others have reported them as eaten by the robin. Other berries reported by others are blueberries, elderberries, coffee berries, mistletoe berries, manzanita berries and the berries of the peppertree, and chokecherries. Though the eastern robins eat a few seeds of the poison-ivy, and thus help to spread that noxious vine, Professor Beal (1915a) says that the seeds of the California poison-oak (Rhus diversiloba) were not found in the stomachs of west-coast robins, which is much to their credit; this is rather remarkable, as the poison-oak is one of the most abundant shrubs in California and as the robins feed freely on other species of Rhus.
Professor Beal (1907) says that from November onward the bulk of the vegetable food was cultivated fruit, "grapes in 5 stomachs, figs in 3, prunes in 2, pear, apple, and black berries in 1 each." These were, at that season, waste fruit that had not been gathered. He then goes on to say: "From the foregoing the robin would not appear to do much damage, or at least not more than is amply paid for by the insects it destroys. But, unfortunately, more is to be said about its food habits, which does not redound so much to its credit. In certain years when their customary food is scarce, robins appear in the valleys in immense numbers, and wherever there are olives they eat them so eagerly and persistently that the loss is often serious and occasionally disastrous. Sometimes, indeed, it is only by the most strenuous efforts, with considerable outlay of labor and money, that any part of the crop can be saved. Fortunately, such extensive damage is not done every year, although here and there the olive crop may suffer." In some cases it was necessary to employ men with shotguns and keep them constantly firing, in order to save more than 50 percent of the olives. Some of the birds shot had as many as six olives in the crop.
Howard L. Cogswell tells me that early in spring the robins "take toll from the many red decorative berry bushes (Pyracantha, Cotoneaster, Eugenia, etc.), which, however, remain practically untouched as long as the camphor berries last."
Behavior: There does not seem to be anything in the behavior of the western robin that is peculiar to this subspecies. Mr. Rathbun tells me that he has, on numerous occasions, tested the speed of this robin in ordinary undisturbed flight, and found it to vary from 25 to 28 miles an hour; once a test showed 30.
Harold S. Gilbert (MS.) tells the following interesting story: "Nothing more startling in a bird way ever happened to me than during a drill by the Hawaiian police (June 17, 1936), when one of their number came out and did a whistling stunt. There was an audience of some 25,000 that witnessed the show in the Multnomah Stadium; and soon after the man began to whistle, about 11 P. M., a robin came down out of the darkness onto the field within a few feet of the whistler (the field was lighted by high-powered flood-lights), and sang as long as the whistling continued. Many of us thought it was a prearranged stunt, but as soon as the whistling was over, the robin flew away into the darkness."
Mr. Rathbun (MS.) relates the following: "While standing in the road our attention was drawn to the actions of a male robin that was springing about on the roadway. While we watched, the bird suddenly took wing, holding in its beak some object which proved to be a small snake. We could easily see the snake writhe about, and at times it appeared to have part of its length around the body of its captor. The robin, not meeting with success in its attempt to carry off the snake, dropped it on the road, then eyed it for a moment, meanwhile cocking its head first on one side and then on the other, as if puzzled by the actions of its prey. But the instant the snake attempted to crawl away, the robin again seized it with the same results as before. This action on the part of the bird took place four times; it then gave up its attempt to take the snake and flew away. We picked up the snake, which proved to be a western garter, about 8 inches in length. It was to all appearances uninjured, none the worse for its experience."
Robin roosts occur in the West as well as in the East and under similar circumstances. L. Ph. Bolander, Jr. (1932), gives an interesting account of a large winter roost in Lakeside Park, Oakland, Calif., in which he estimated that there were 165,000 birds. Space will not permit including much of his account here, but the following paragraph is too interesting to omit:
Another interesting observation connected with worm pulling by the robins is the action of the gulls. I observed a Glaucous-winged Gull, three California Gulls and one Ring-billed Gull standing on the grass plot amid about eighty robins. Every time a robin would start pulling out a worm a gull would make a run toward him. Of course the robin would let go of the worm and then the gull would gobble it up! This was repeated again and again; but I could not determine whether the Ring-billed Gull followed this practice, as it left soon after I arrived on the scene. Sometimes the worm would come out quickly enough for the robin to get it down before the gull could get on the job. If the worm was too big for the robin to swallow immediately the gull would pursue it, but the robin usually dived under a protecting oak tree or madrone. The gull would not follow there.
Voice: The song of the western robin is evidently no different from that of its eastern relative, but the song period seems to be of somewhat shorter duration. Mr. Rathbun writes to me: "By about the middle of July the robin no longer sings near the close of day, except on rare occasions. And this evening song began to shorten in the latter part of June. It commences to come into full song early in March, but snatches of song are given on sunny days in February." Mr. Saunders (MS.) says that his notes show that the period of song in Montana is shorter than in the East, "the birds beginning to sing early in April, or the last few days of March, and ceasing to sing late in July, rather than August."
Enemies: J. K. Jensen (1925) saw young robins robbed of the their food and tells this story about it:
During the latter half of May, 1925 a pair of Robins built a nest in a locust tree in front of my house. Four eggs were laid and in due season four young appeared. The parent birds have since been busy feeding the young. A pair of English Sparrows discovered the Robin's nest and saw the process of feeding. Now for about two weeks the Sparrows have been watching the Robins closely, and whenever one of them flies down on the lawn in search of food for the young the Sparrows will follow it. As soon as the Robin captures a grasshopper or a worm and flies to the nest, the Sparrows will follow and alight on the rim opposite the Robin. As soon as the Robin has placed the food in the open bill of one of the youngsters, one of the Sparrows reaches over and pulls the food out and flies away to a quiet place to devour it.
Jays are among the worst enemies of robins, as well as of other birds, as they craftily and persistently rob the nests of eggs or young. Susan M. Kane (1924) gives the following account of a spirited baffle in which the jay was the loser:
For several days a Steller's Jay had been pestering a Robin sitting on her nest in a bush against the corner of the house. The nest was in full view of a window at which I often worked. The Jay had employed every ruse to get the bird's eggs. Re watched for her absence; slipped upon her to frighten her off; sounded alarms; engaged the male in skirmishes. These were but a few of his pernicious tactics to further his aims. I missed his final move but the Robin did not. There was a cry of distress from the Robin and when I looked up the Jay's toes were already in the air and contracting. The Robin had made a master thrust. Its beak had penetrated the Jay's head in a vulnerable spot., causing instant death.
But death for the villain did not satisfy the Robin. She shrilled for her mate again and again as repeatedly she pounced upon the fallen bird and pommeled him with beak and claw. The mate must have been gallivanting about the country for it seemed every other bird on the campus was at the scene before he arrived. When he did come it was in hot haste and with wild cries. He leaped into the fray. At times the birds fought by leaping into the air striking with beak and wing and pouncing with feet as a barn-yard cock fights. More often the attack was made from low branches of trees to which they flew and then struck with a flying dash. The battleground was sloping. Up and down the incline they kicked and tossed that brilliant brigand until his plumage was in sad array.
Fall and winter: Some of the fall and winter movements and habits have been referred to above. Grinnell and Storer (1924) write: "After the young are grown, family parties are to be seen for a while. As soon as the young are capable of getting their living independently they gather into flocks. Meanwhile the adults go off by themselves and remain sequestered until completion of their annual molt. Then, in late September, the robins, without regard to sex or age, gather into mixed flocks and, for the most part, spend the winter in such gatherings. * * * Only a few venturesome robins continue in the mountains above the 3000-foot level during the Sierran winter."
W. E. D. Scott (1888) says of the winter range of the western robin in Arizona: "This form of the Robin I found to be a regular fall, winter, and early spring resident in the Catalinas, altitude 3500 to 6000 feet. They arrive here in the fall about November 1, and are soon quite common in small flocks or companies. All though the winter they are more or less common, but towards spring their numbers seem to be very considerably increased, and they are quite common until late in March, and are to be seen sparingly during the first week in April."
There is plenty of evidence that western robins congregate in enormous numbers in winter on favorable feeding grounds, as well as in winter roosts, such as that mentioned by Mr. Bolander (1932) at Oakland, which he estimated to contain 165,000 birds. John B. Price (1933) made some interesting observations on the winter feeding territories of western robins, of which he writes:
Two semi-albino robins were observed during the winter season at Stanford University, California. One was observed daily on the same lawn from January 19 to February 18 with the exception of three days. The other was observed on another lawn from February 12 to February 18. Each night they flew away (in all probability four or five miles) to roost and returned to the same small areas before sunrise the next day. This suggests that each individual robin in a flock may have its own individual territory during the winter season. [The bird that he called White-head] was always on the Jordan Hall lawn, and during the month of observation it was never once seen on the neighboring lawn in front of the Psychology Building although about fifty other robins regularly foraged there. Furthermore, it was always seen in the middle portion of the lawn, occasionally going into the bordering bushes. This feeding territory had an area of about 400 square yards and the bird was never observed to feed elsewhere. * * *
The White-headed robin did not have exclusive possession of its portion of the lawn. A few other robins fed there but they were never very close together. If another robin approached too closely, White-head would drive it a few yards farther on. On February 12 instead of the dozen or so there before, over fifty robins were seen on the Jordan Hall east lawn. The newcomers may have been previously feeding on berries in the nearby oval and moved to the lawn when the berries were exhausted. Many of the newcomers were in White-head's territory and it was very vigorous in combating them. During a three-minute interval in the late afternoon it was observed to combat ten times. Usually the opponent would retreat a short distance as soon as White-head rushed at it; sometimes both flew up in combat; but in every case White-head was successful. In a few days the number of robins on the Jordan Hall east lawn was once more only about a dozen.
His experience with the other robin, "White-tail," was similar. It was not observed until February 12 but may have been there before that; it had a smaller territory, about 300 square yards; it was driven out of another small lawn that was being defended by a normal robin and forced to return to its own territory.
Howard L. Cogswell, of Pasadena, Calif., writes to me: "Over much of the valley area robins flock with cedar waxwings, which seem to prefer much the same food; a dozen or so robins to a hundred waxwings is about the usual proportion. In some localities, though, there are regular robin roosts. One such in a eucalyptus grove at the base of the Santa Monica Mountains, near North Hollywood, was frequented by hundreds of birds each night during the winter of 1940--41, according to my friend Arthur Berry. On December 27, 1942, when I visited this spot at dusk, small flocks of robins came flying over at a height of about 250 feet. As they were directly over the trees, several groups half closed their wings and tumbled precipitously into the thickest of the topmost branches, immediately ceasing their call notes, which had been given by the whole flock flying over."
Dr. Helmuth 0. Wagner tells me that the robins from the north arrive in the vicinity of Mexico City during the first part of October, mostly in flocks of 10 to 30 birds. They frequent the bushy forests of oaks, pines, and cypresses, preferring the open forests. The flocks are not compact, and, if they are frightened, one after another of the birds flies away. Sometimes, they are in berry-bearing trees, together with Ptilogonys cinereus, which are living in fixed flocks and are coming to the same trees for berries. In December, or later, if it is very dry, you will see more single birds, or flocks of three or four, in the cornfields near the borders of the forests, looking for insects or other food. At all times they are very shy, and if they see anyone they fly into the bushes on the borders, or into the high pines of the forests. So far as it is possible to identify them, the same flocks remain all winter within a fixed area. In the summer of 1935 he observed a flock of 10 birds,more or less, in a forest of pines and liquidambar at 1,700 meters in the mountains of Chiapas.
TURDUS MIGRATORIUS NIGRIDEUS Aldrich and Nutt
In naming this northeastern subspecies, Aldrich and Nutt (1939) give its subspecific characters as "nearest Turdus migratorius migratorius, but darker throughout. Upper parts: gray areas darker, more blackish and black areas more extensive; wings and tail more blackish, back much darker, more blackish mouse gray, in males gray more or less completely obscured by an extension posteriorly of the black of the head. Lower parts: More deeply colored, hazel rather than cinnamon rufous, with white areas less extensive and black areas more extensive; in male, black streaks of throat tend to coalesce laterally and posteriorly; gray areas of under tail-coverts and under surface of tail darker; black spots on breast of juvenile specimens larger, tending to coalesce anteriorly."
Of its geographical distribution, they say: "Breeds in Newfoundland. South in winter to eastern Canada and the eastern United States." Specimens have been taken from Nova Scotia, Wolfville, April 20; New York, Shelter Island, March 28; Ohio, Geauga County, March 22 and April 18. "The robin is apparently partially a permanent resident in Newfoundland since natives report them to be common about St. John's in the winter months."
In a later note, Dr. Aldrich (1945) writes: "In view of the recent extension of the known breeding range of Turdus migratorius nigrideus across the Straits of Belle Isle from Newfoundland to the coast of Labrador (Peters and Burleigh, Auk, 61: 472, 1944) it would seem to be of interest to put on record additional material that has recently come to my attention. In the there are two adult male breeding specimens from Chimo, northern Quebec. These birds, taken by L. M. Turner on May 27 and June 8, 1884, are almost typical nigrideus and extend the breeding range of the Black-backed Robin considerably to the northwest. This discovery makes less surprising the occurrence of migrants from as far west as Illinois and Michigan." In the same note he records identified specimens from as far south as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.
Aldrich and Nutt say that this robin is an abundant breeding bird on the Avalon Peninsula in eastern Newfoundland, where the type was taken, "but is exceedingly wary as compared with its Ohio relatives. The noisy and precipitous departure of robins while the observer is still as much as 100 yards away is characteristic of birds of that region."
On the west coast of Newfoundland, Ludlow Griscom (1926) found this robin "almost ubiquitous, but common only near dwellings and cleared land." In his unpublished manuscript on the birds of Labrador and Ungava, Lucien M. Turner reports it as common or abundant all along the east coast of Labrador, but not beyond Nakvak, and especially numerous about Fort Chimo, Ungava.
Dr. Oliver L. Austin, Jr. (1932), calls it "a common summer resident north to the tree line, occasionally straying farther north shortly after the breeding season." He says that it "is seldom seen north of Nain, where it breeds commonly about the settlement. It is usually to be found in the small-tree growth, but comes out into the barren coastal zone to build its nest in abandoned dwellings and under the cod-flakes."
Spring: According to L. M. Turner (MS.), the robins arrive at Fort Chimo from the 9th to the 13th of May. "The first individual is always a male who sings suspiciously low, as if afraid he had come too early. In a day or two after the arrival of the first male will be seen a few females and as many males. I have reason to suspect that they have already paired before reaching this locality, as the labor of nidification begins immediately, and the first nest was obtained June 5, containing two eggs. * * * At the date of arrival the birds frequently find that several inches of snow have yet to fall and cover the ground for three or four days at a time, or that a cold spell comes and freezes the ground for several days and thus prevents the birds from procuring mud with which to stiffen their nests."
Nesting: He says: "The nest of the robin is placed at various distances from the ground and even in the midst of an elevated mass of sphagnum rising round a clump of bushes. Many of the nests are remarkable for their great bulk and when just secured have a great weight from the thick mud walls."
Townsend and Allen (1907) found a nest at Rigolet on July 18, containing three eggs. "It was placed about seven feet up in a spruce, near the houses of the Hudson's Bay company's post, and was constructed of twigs, lichens, and mud, lined with finer material."
Dr. Austin (1932) says: "The Robins nest persistently under the Battle Harbor flake. I have found nests there on numerous occasions, but the birds are seldom successful with their broods, for the combination of small boys and husky dogs is deadly."
Mr. Griscom (1926) says that in the fishing villages along the Straits of Belle Isle, "it nested in the racks for drying fish, on top of fences, under the wharves, and other unlikely places. A few individuals nest in the stunted spruces on the Blomidon tableland."
Evidently the nests, and to some extent the nesting sites, are similar to those of our familiar eastern robin, with due allowance made for the difference m envifonment. The eggs of the two races are apparently practically indistinguishable. Mr. Turner (MS.) inferred that incubation begins before the set is complete.
He says further: "I found nothing in their habits to differ from their actions in other localities. Their food consists of insects during the breeding season; and in the earliest days of their arrival they subsist principally on the berries of Empetrum nigrum and Vaccinium, which were preserved by the frost during the winter. When the berries ripen in the fall, these birds apparently eat nothing else. During the early days of June and before it was possible for young birds to be hatched, I frequently observed male robins searching near my house for worms and other food. During these times I never saw a female, yet the male birds secured their beaks full of food and flew away with it, leading me to conclude that the food was destined for the females which were sitting at that particular time."
He observed this robin at Fort Chimo as late as October 17 during the fall of 1882.
SAN LUCAS ROBIN
TURDUS CONFINIS Baird
The San Lucas robin is a beautiful pale edition of our familiar robins, clad in the softest, blended colors. The upperparts are plain "smoke gray" or "mouse gray"; there is no black or even blackish on the head, and the breast is creamy buff or creamy white, instead of the rich "cinnamon-rufous" so characteristic of our northern birds. We may miss the rich colors, but there is no mistaking it as a robin.
The type specimen was collected by Xantus at Todos Santos, in the Cape region of Lower California, during the summer of 1860. This specimen, still in the , remained unique for over 20 years. During the winter of 1882 and 1883, Lyman Belding (1884) explored the mountains of the Cape region and obtained two more specimens of this robin, which were deposited in the National Museum. He writes:
The most important localities visited were in the Victoria Mountains [now known as the Sierra de la Laguna], which were probably never previously explored by any collector. I ascended these mountains by three different trails on as many different spurs. The trail leading to Laguna is the longest, highest, and possibly the worst; however, I suppose either of them would be considered impassable in any other country than Mexico. On this trail an altitude of about 5,000 feet was reached. From an altitude of about 3,500 feet and upward the flora was partly that of the temperate zone.
This region is well watered and well timbered with medium-sized oaks and pines, the latter constituting about a tenth of the forest, being distributed unevenly among the oaks. Bunch grass was everywhere abundant. * * * Upon meeting the first pines, I discovered almost simultaneously the long sought Cape Robin (Merula confinis Baird), the beautiful new Snowbird (Junco bairdi), and other interesting species. * * * Only about a dozen Cape Robins were seen, and these were all on the Laguna trail. About half were found singly, one as low as 2,500 feet above sea level.
Mr. Cipriano Fisher, an American, who had often hunted deer at Laguna, informed me that Robins were sometimes abundant there. This may be the case when the berries of the California Holly (Heteromeles), which grows abundantly in the neighborhood, are ripe. * * * The type specimen, shot by Xantus at Todos Santos in summer, may have been a straggler from the mountains.
During 1887 M. Abbott Frazar spent about nine months in Lower California, collecting for William Brewster, and sent him over 150 specimens of this hitherto rare robin. Mr. Brewster (1902) writes:
Mr. Frazar was the next to meet the St. Lucas Robin in its native haunts. He found it first on the Sierra de Ia Laguna, during his ascent of this mountain on April 26, 1887. It was common at this date, and by the end of May, exceedingly abundant, for its numbers continued to increase during nearly the whole of Mr. Frazar's stay, but up to the time of his departure (June 9), it was invariably seen in flocks, and none of the many specimens examined showed any indications that their breeding season was at hand. The people living on the mountain asserted that the birds do not lay before July. * * *
During his second visit to La Laguna, Mr. Frazar saw in all only ten St. Lucas Robins, -- one on November 28, two on November 30, one on December 1, and six on December 2. This led him to conclude that most of them leave the mountains in winter, a supposition speedily confirmed, for about two weeks later (December 18--25) he found them abundant at San Jose del Rancho. At this place a few breed, also, for three were seen during July, and one of them, a female, shot on the 27th, was incubating, and must have had a nest and eggs somewhere in the immediate neighborhood.
"The St. Lucas Robin," Brewster continues, "is evidently one of the most characteristic species of the Cape Fauna, for it does not range even so far to the northward as La Paz, and, according to Mr. Bryant, is unknown to the people living in the central and northern portions of the Peninsula." This statement is correct, so far as I know today, but Brewster then goes on to cite the record of a specimen, supposed to have been taken by W. Otto Emerson at Haywards, Calif. This record had long stood unchallenged in the literature, until the curiosity of that critical student of California ornithology, Dr. Joseph Grinnell, was sufficiently aroused to prompt him to examine the specimen. After a critical examination and comparison with pertinent material, he and Mr. Emerson both agreed that it was, in all probability, merely an extremely pale individual of a female western robin (see Condor, vol. 10, pp. 238--239).
Nesting: "Mr. Frazar found a number of old nests which were constructed precisely like those of the common Robin, and placed in similar situations" (Brewster, 1902). J. Stuart Rowley was in the Sierra de la Laguna during the last few days of May and the first part of June 1933, and says in his notes that "these pale-colored robins were reasonably abundant throughout the higher mountain area. At this time they were just commencing to nest and only one set of eggs was taken, consisting of three eggs."
Col. John E. Thayer (1911) seems to have published the first description of the nest and eggs of the San Lucas robin. His collector, Wilmot W. Brown, sent him two sets of three eggs each with the nests. They were taken in the Sierra de la Laguna on July 5,1910. One was placed "in an Oak tree at the juncture of a limb with the trunk, about 40 feet from the ground." The other was placed "in an Oak, on a horizontal limb, about thirty feet from the ground. * * * The two nests are fine specimens. They are built of dried grass, weed stalks and lichens, neatly held together with mud. * * * Both these nests are much better built than any Robin's nest I have ever seen."
I have examined these two nests and can find no evidence of mud in their construction, except in the bases where there is some muddy moss and mud picked up with the decayed rubbish used as foundations; there is no mud visible in the sides or rims, as usually the case with northern robins' nests. The same is true of the two nests referred to below.
The dimensions of Thayer's nests are approximately as follows: Height, 4 inches; outside diameter, 5 inches; inner diameter, 3¼ inches; inside depth, 2¼ inches.
Another nest, in the Museum of Comparative Zoology, was taken by Mr. Brown in the same locality on June 28, 1913; it was placed near the end of an oak branch 40 feet above ground; this is a beautiful nest, mainly like the others in construction, but larger and more elaborate; the foundation is a great mass of coarse and fine lichens, coarse and woody weed stems, and the flower stalks of everlasting, which are carried up into the rim of the nest; it is neatly lined, as are the others, with very fine yellow grasses; it measures 6½ by 7 inches in outside diameter, and the inner cavity is 3½ inches in diameter.
There is a nest of the San Lucas robin, in my collection in Washington, that was taken by Mr. Brown on June 13, 1912, at 6,000 feet altitude in the Sierra de la Laguna; it was placed near the end of a branch of a mountain oak, about 20 feet from the ground; it is similar in construction to those described above.
Eggs: All the nests referred to above contained three eggs, which seems to be the usual number for the San Lucas robin. These are much like the eggs of the eastern robin, varying in shape from ovate to elongate-ovate, with a tendency to be somewhat pointed; they are only slightly glossy.
The color does not vary much from "pale Nile blue," and there are no signs of markings. The measurements of 19 eggs average 30.3 by 20.5 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 33.0 by 20.8, 28.3 by 22.1, and 28.5 by 19.1 millimeters.
Plumages: Strangely enough, neither Mr. Frazar nor Mr. Brown ever collected any young birds, though they took close to 200 adults. It is a pity that collectors neglect to take immature or molting birds, which are always scarce in collections and are exceedingly interesting to students of plumages and often indicate relationships. Fortunately, I have in my collection a young male San Lucas robin in juvenal plumage, taken by Chester C. Lamb in the Laguna Valley, at 6,000 feet, on July 29, 1929, 69 years after the discovery of the species. It is about half grown, but fully feathered on the body, with a very short tail. The upperparts are similar to those of the eastern robin, but paler; the pileum is "olive-brown," and the back is only slightly paler; the light spots on the back are larger and a paler buff than in the eastern bird; there is much more white on the underparts, where the extensive rufous of our familiar robin is replaced by a very limited suffusion of "pinkish buff" on the chest, sides, and flanks; the dusky spotting on the underparts is about the same as in our bird, but the white tips of the outer tail feathers are very narrow.
In all the large series I have examined I could not find one molting bird. Most of the specimens are in the pale, faded nuptial plumage, in which the underparts are pale "cream-buff" or paler, mixed with a large amount of dull white, sometimes nearly all white; I find birds in this plumage through August and up to September 2, mostly in worn condition.
There are no birds in the series that were taken late in September or in October. But from November 10 and through December we find birds in fresh autumnal plumage, in which the underparts are clear, rich "ochraceous-buff" or "chamois"; these are probably fall adults. The inference is that the postnuptial molt of adults, and probably the postjuvenal molt of young birds, are accomplished in September and October.
In the series are many fall birds and some spring birds that show more or less ashy clouding or obscure spotting on the chest, in some cases forming an almost solid pectoral band. Mr. Brewster (1902) was probably correct in suggesting, in his extensive remarks on their plumages, that this and the dark bill, which is not always correlated with the ashy clouding, are signs of immaturity. If this idea is the correct one, it means that young birds can usually be recognized by these characters all through their first year and do not assume the fully adult plumage until their second fall.
Voice: Mr. Brewster (1902) quotes from Mr. Frazar's notes: "The song resembles that of the eastern robin, but is weaker and less distinct, reminding one of the efforts of a young bird just learning to sing. I did not hear a single loud, clear note."
Mr. Rowley says in his notes: "This species has the same pleasing habit of singing at dusk, as do the robins of the United States, and it is a toss-up between this species and the San Lucas western flycatcher as to which bird sings the latest into the evening darkness."
Range: The Cape region of Lower California.
Breeding range: The San Lucas robin is nonmigratory and is confined to the Cape region of Lower California, chiefly in the mountains but found also in the lowlands. The range extends north to Todos Santos and Las Lagunas on the coasts and possibly a little farther in the interior as one record reads "road to Triunfo."
Egg dates: Lower California: 15 records, April 6 to August 6; 8 records, June 13 to June 29, indicating the height of the season.