Monday, January 12, 2009

Robins Return

Yesterday I saw the first robin of the year, singing cheerily at the Ted Trueblood Wildlife Area near Grand View.

I recall the first robin once being a sure sign of spring's imminent arrival. But lately, it seems as if robins are arriving earlier each year. Are they really? And if so, what's going on?

As with so many natural history questions, the answers are a bit more complex than it might first appear.

For one thing, robins are short-distance migrants. They don't go all the way to South America each year, but rather just head south far enough to avoid cold weather. However, a certain small number of robins have always stayed in place and braved the cold weather. The robin I saw could have been a bird that never left.

And actually, more robins are staying in colder climes because of changes to habitat. Suburbia--with more fruit trees and more shrubs--are ideal conditions for robins. Additionally, backyards offer high numbers of earthworms. To see an illustration of this, dig up a shovel of earth in your grassy lawn, and then dig up a shovel out in the Owyhees.

Finally, there is research to suggest that migratory robins are indeed showing up earlier, probably due to climate change.

My lone sighting doesn't mean much beyond satisfying my personal interest. But with other observations, it can help ornithologists detect long-term trends. Bird observation is one area where amateur observers are still making a difference.

Backyard bird counts can help scientists track population trends, species declines and changes in range introduction. This winter, sign up for the Great Backyard Bird Count or Project FeederWatch, two great ways to help bird conservation just by observing birds in your neighborhood, city park or own backyard. Your observations can help shape inform scientists so that we better understand--and can better conserve--our feathered friends.--Matt Miller

Photo courtesy of Tom Grey.

No comments: