Tag Archives: American Robin

LATE WINTER WILDLIFE UPDATE -AND LOVE IS IN THE AIR!

Beautiful bird songs fill the air as songbirds are pairing up.

Carolina Wren

Red-winged Blackbirds

American Robin

Winter resident ducks are seen in pairs, too.

Buffleheads, Ring-necked Ducks, and Scaups

Our young Black-crowned Night Heron has made it through the winter!

And a pair of American Pipits has been here all winter, too.

Many Short-eared Owls and Snowy Owls have not yet departed for their summer breeding grounds.

Red-tailed and Marsh Hawks are here year round and this is a wonderful time of year to observe their behaviors, before sparse vegetation turns lush with summer growth.

Fox and Coyotes have been busy mating; their kits and pups are born from mid-March-through May.

Bald Eagles in our area may begin laying eggs as early as February.

The Harbor Seal posse is seen nearly everyday. The highest count so far was 27!

A pair of sweet Snow Buntings has been here for several days, eating tiny seeds found on the ground.

Brant Geese are seen in small to large flocks before heading to the high Arctic tundra to breed.

FLOCK OF AMERICAN ROBINS IN OUR GARDEN!

Listening to a chorus of beautiful Robin bird song as a visiting flock devours the last of the remaining tree fruits.

WINTER ROBINS HAVE RETURNED AND THEY ARE RIGHT ON SCHEDULE!

Their shadows in flight crisscrossing the light through my office window, I look up to see one feather-fluffed fellow sitting on a crabapple branch, gazing right back at me. I wonder, if I silently and cautiously open the window, will he fly in?

It is so very cold out doors. The flock seems more weary than in past years. One sits on the ground outside the window, barely moving aside when I walk down the garden path; another is half asleep in the holly limb overhead. There are fewer, too, perhaps only eight to ten when often we see several dozen. On this coldest of January days, it must be difficult to keep warm, especially as there are no little fish to catch along the frozen sea’s edge to warm their bellies.

This one was so worn out, he sat in the snow beneath the holly tree, eating what the other Robins dropped on the ground.

The winter Robins arrive to our garden every year in January, nearly to the day (today, January 21st). Our garden is a postage stamp but we have planted it richly for the songbirds. The pair of ‘Dragon Lady’ holly trees hold their berries for the Robins, the crabapples have yet to be sampled, the winterberry is still ripe with fruit, and the tiny rosehips of the climbing white rose are beckoning.

We’re fortunate that on Cape Ann many American Robins nest and migrate along our shores. Some Robins live here all the year round; some arrive in springtime, having spent the winter further south in parts warmer; and some–the ones I like to call winter Robins–arrive in January, from parts further north. We are like their Bermuda, and they are here to feed on wild fruits and berries, as well as small fish fry and fingerlings, and mollusks.

Rime-sweetened rosehips

Cape Ann Winged Creature Update

Featuring: Brant Geese, Black-capped Chickadees, Black-crowned Night Heron, Blue Jays, Cardinals, American Robins, Mockingbirds, Savannah Sparrows, House Finches, Red-breasted Mergansers, and Common Grackle.  

Beautiful iridescent feathers of the Common Grackle.

Spring is a fantastic time of year in Massachusetts to see wildlife, whether that be whale or winged creature. Marine species are migrating to the abundant feeding grounds of the North Atlantic as avian species are traveling along the Atlantic Flyway to summer breeding regions in the boreal forests and Arctic tundra. And, too, the bare limbs of tree branches and naked shrubs make for easy viewing of species that breed and nest in our region. Verdant foliage that will soon spring open, although much longed for, also obscures nesting activity. Get out today and you’ll be richly rewarded by what you see along shoreline and pond bank.

Male Red-winged Blackbird singing to his lady love

Once the trees leaf, we’ll still hear the songsters but see them less.

Nests will be hidden from view.

Five migrating Brant Geese were foraging on seaweed at Loblolly Cove this morning.

Red-breasted Merganser Bath Time

Cape Ann Wildlife: A Year in Pictures

snowy-owl-gloucester-massachusetts-c2a9kim-smith-2015My husband Tom suggested that I write a year-end post about the wildlife that I had photographed around Cape Ann. Super idea I thought, that will be fun and easy. Not realizing how daunting and many hours later, the following is a collection of some favorite images from this past year, beginning with the male Snowy Owl photographed at Captain Joe’s dock last winter, to December’s Red-tailed Hawk huntress.
red-tailed-hawk-eating-prey-gloucester-massachusetts-21-copyright-kim-smith

Living along the great Atlantic Flyway, we have been graced with a bevy of birds. Perhaps the most exciting arrival of all occurred when early summer brought several pairs of nesting Piping Plovers to Gloucester’s most beloved (and most highly trafficked) of beaches, Good Harbor Beach. Their story is being documented on film.

piping-plovers-chicks-nestlings-babies-kim-smithWork on Mr. Swan’s film will also resume this January—the winters are simply not long enough for all I have planned!swan-outstretched-wings-niles-pond-coyright-kim-smith

While photographing and filming Red-winged Blackbirds this past spring, there was a face-to-face encounter with a hungry coyote, as well as several River Otter sightings.

female-red-winged-blackbird-copyright-kim-smitrhFemale Red-winged Blackbirdeastern-coyote-massachusetts-kim-smith

The summer’s drought brought Muskrats out from the reeds and into full view at a very dry Henry’s Pond, and a short film about a North American Beaver encounter at Langsford Pond. Numerous stories were heard from folks who have lived on Cape Ann far longer than I about the extraordinary number of egrets, both Snowy and Great, dwelling on our shores.
three-muskrat-family-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smithThree Muskrateers
female-monarch-depositing-eggs-1-copyright-kim-smithnewly-emerged-monarch-butterfly-copyright-kim-smith-jpgThere were few Monarch sightings, but the ones seen thankfully deposited eggs in our garden. Thank you to my new friend Christine who shared her Cecropia Silkmoth eggs with me and thank you to the countless readers who have extended an invitation to come by and photograph an exciting creature in their yard.

cecropia-moth-caterpillar-copyright-kim-smith

Pristine beaches, bodies of fresh water, and great swathes of protected marsh and woodland make for ideal wildlife habitat, and Cape Ann has it all. With global climate change pushing species further away from the Equator, I imagine we’ll be seeing even more creatures along our shores. Butterfly and bee populations are overall in decline, not only because of climate change and the use of pesticides, but also because of loss of habitat. As Massachusetts has become less agrarian and more greatly forested, fields of wildflowers are becoming increasingly rare. And too fields often make the best house lots. Farmers and property owners developing an awareness of the insects’ life cycle and planting and maintaining fields and gardens accordingly will truly help the butterflies and bees.
female-mallard-nine-ducklings-kim-smith

Thank you to all our readers for your kind comments of appreciation throughout the year for the beautiful wild creatures with which we share this gorgeous peninsula called Cape Ann.

The images are not arranged in any particular order. If you’d like to read more about a particular animal, type the name of the animal in the search box and the original post should come up.

I wonder what 2017 will bring?

nine-piping-plovers-napping-gloucester-copyright-kim-smith

sandpipers-copyright-kim-smith

Christmas Robin

christmas-robin-winterberry-copyright-kim-smithchristmas-robin-winterberry-2-copyright-kim-smithRobin Finds Christmas was a favorite book from childhood, given to me by my Grandmother. Funny how sweet little children’s stories stay with you forever. Robin Finds Christmas is about searching for the true meaning of Christmas and was written by the English writer and illustrator Molly Brett.b20ff50729fbfb707ae0b2e0df4e799d

Super Moon, Howling Coyotes, Flying Swan, Songbirds Going Crazy, and Beautiful Brace Cove Daybreak

rocky-neck-smith-cove-daybreak-copyright-kim-smithLast Tuesday was a photographer’s magical dream morning. After photographing and filming December’s “Long Night’s Moon” descending over the Gloucester city skyline, I turned toward the east to see a peaceful daybreak scene over Rocky Neck. Perhaps the sun hadn’t fully risen I thought and hurried to Brace Cove. The sun had rose behind Brace Rock with just enough clouds that it was still pretty, not blasted out by too much light.

I then walked along the edge of Niles Pond, meeting up with Mr. Swan who was occupied with his morning swim, which often indicates he is readying to take flight. He did, and with movie camera in hand, he circled the Pond before landing at Brace Cove, near the breakwater.

Eerily, the coyotes were howling in the distance, actually howling, like wolves, and for quite a long while. I often hear their meet-and-greet yipping and socializing barks that they make shortly after sunset, and too the terrible sound they make when killing a creature, but I have never heard them howling in the morning. I wonder if it had something to do with the full moon? Do our readers hear coyotes howling regularly?

tufted-titmouse-copyright-kim-smithTufted Titmouse

Further along the Pond walk there was a large flock of American Robins and they, along with a lively group of Blue Jays, Tufted Titmice, Song Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, and Cardinals were hungrily eating every berry in sight, so much so that when I returned to the same spot a few days later, there wasn’t a berry or fruit to be seen. A magical morning at a magical place we’re fortunate to call home.

full-cold-moon-frosty-moon-december-2016-gloucester-ma-city-skyline-1-copyright-kim-smithDecember Long Night’s Moon

Prettiest Robin’s Nest (and Crabapple, too)!

Robin's Nest copyright Kim SmithThis beautiful Robin’s nest is located at the lovely home of the Del Vecchio family. Daughter Clara noticed that a sprig of lavender was used in nest building so they left out some colorful bits of yarn. The Robins built the nest atop a rolled up rug that was left standing beside their well-trafficked front door. Mama Robin doesn’t seem to mind a bit the constant comings and goings of the household. I’ve seen robins build nests in some crazy places, but this has to take the cake!

Thank you to Michele for allowing me to come and film what has to be the world’s most charming Robin’s nest!

Update on the Robin’s nest: Sadly, Michele reports that the nest was knocked over and the eggs have been scavenged. In our region, Robins typically have several broods and often use the same nest, so perhaps the nest can become reestablished.

pink flowering crabapple tree copyright Kim SmithDel Vecchio’s crabapple in full glorious bloom! 

Crabapple blossoms

HOW COLOR IS CREATED IN BIRD FEATHERS PART 2

Turkey male fanning tale feathers feathers Kim SmithStructural Color

Have you ever wondered why sometimes you can see the brilliant red gorget (throat feathers) of the male Ruby-throated and Allen’s hummingbirds, and sometimes not at all? Or why iridescent feathers appear green, and then blue, or possibly purple, and then in the next moment look drab and dreary? I think about this when photographing birds such as grackles, buffleheads and hummingbirds. Most recently, the turkeys in our community are currently displaying their wildly varying iridescent feathers when in full courtship mode.

Bufflehead Kim SmithBufflehead Iridescence

Iridescent red gorget in male Allen’s Hummingbird; same bird, different angles

Layering

There are two types of structural color, layering and scattering. Iridescence in bird feathers is created by layering. Bird feathers are made of a translucent protein called keratin, which is a very rugged substance. Not only are the feathers made of keratin, but keratin coats the bird’s claws, legs, and bill. Because of the structure of the feather, with its microscopic barbules, when light hits the feather it causes the wave lengths to bend, or refract. Keratin reflects short wave length colors like purples, blues, and violets. The other colors are absorbed by the underlying layer of melanin. The refraction works like a prism, splitting the light into an array of colors. As the viewing angle changes, because of the viewer’s movement or because the bird is moving, the refracted light displays a shimmering iridescence, or none at all. Beautiful color combinations are created when iridescent layers are combined with pigments present.

Turkey male iridescent feathers -2 Kim SmithIn the above photo, the male Turkey’s iridescent feathers surrounding the head make a splendid display in full sun.

Turkey male iridescent feathers Kim SmithThese same feathers appear entirely different when back lit.

Grackle Kim Smith 2016Iridescence in Grackles

Scattering

Keratin is interspersed with tiny pockets of air of within the structure of the feather filament (called barb). Scattering is created when light hits the pockets of air, which results in specific, non-iridescent color. The color blue in feathers is almost always created in this manner. Feathers of Blue Jays, Bluebirds, and Indigo Buntings are prime examples of scattering.

Here are two graphics found online from Cornell that I found very helpful in trying to visualize the difference between layering and scattering. The first shows how iridescence is produced and the second, how blue scattering is created.Struct-Color-DIA-Iridescent_Myaedit_coloracrticle-674x441Bird_Biology-Feather_structural_blue-674x450

HOW COLOR IS CREATED IN BIRD FEATHERS

In thinking about how colors are created in bird feathers, I wondered if it was similar to how color is formed in butterfly wings. I learned that yes, it is very similar, and that bird feather color has evolved in several ways, from pigmentation present or as a result of light refracting through the layered structure of the feather.

Northern Cardinal Male Kim SmithColor from Pigment

Pigments are colored material found in plants, animals, and nearly every physical substance in nature. Pigmentation in birds comes from three different sources: melanins, carotenoids, and porphyrines.

Melanins are tiny bits of color in the feathers of birds and in their skin. Melanins produce colors from palest yellow to rusty red browns to the richest black, depending on where the melanin is located and in what degree of concentration. Feathers with melanin are the strongest of all. A bird’s flight feathers are the most susceptible to wear and usually have the highest degree of melanin.

Red-winged Blackbird male Kim SmithAmerican Robin Kim SmithRed-winged Blackbirds and American Robins are strong flyers. Their flight feathers have rich concentrations of melanin.

Carotenoids are produced by plants. Birds that eat specific plants, or eat something that has eaten the plant, acquire pigment from carotenoids. A carotenoid-rich diet is responsible for the beautiful vermillion feathers of the Northern Cardinal, as well as the electrifying cadmium yellow of the male American Goldfinch. Another example is the pink feathers of the flamingo, which also have a diet rich in carotenoids that come from the crustaceans that they eat, which ate algae. Melanins and carotenoids can interact to produce feathers such as olive green.

The third group of pigments are called porphyrins and they are the rarest, found only in a handful of bird families. Porphyrins are produced by modified amino acids and all share a common trait, which is to fluoresce bright red when exposed to ultraviolet light. Porphyrins are found in some pigeons, owls, and turacos.

The intensity of the red of the Northern Cardinal is an example of how feather color plays an important role in the survival of a species. Cardinal foods high in carotenoids include rose hips and dogwood berries. The brightest red birds usually have superior breeding territories, with the greatest abundance of their preferred foods. The reddest birds make the most successful parents because of their ability to bring an increased amount of food to the nestlings. When Cardinals are raised in captivity on a diet lacking in carotenoids, with each successive molt, the feathers become paler and paler.

Like butterflies, birds can see color in the ultraviolet spectrum (we humans cannot). Perhaps the way we see birds is entirely different from they way they see themselves!

Part Two Structural Color continued tomorrow.

Red-winged Blackbird in flight male KIm SmithMale Red-winged Blackbird

GLORIOUS SPRING!

Daffodils Kim Smith 2016I dared not meet the daffodils,
For fear their yellow gown
Would pierce me with a fashion
So foreign to my own.

                                        -Emily DickinsonDaffodils American Robin Kim Smith 2016

WELCOME SWEET HARBINGERS OF SPRING

A sure sign spring is on the way with these three singing their way onto the scene! 

While the trees have yet to leaf out, late winter is a terrific time of year to see songbirds. As the air temperature warms, singing their love songs and courting, establishing and defending territories, and nest building endeavors are more easily observed in the leafless trees.

American Robin kimsmithdesigns.comAmerican Robin cocking his head while looking for worms.

Mourning Dove kismithdesigns.comMourning Dove with air-puffed feathers to keep warm.

Red-winged Blackbird Male kimsmithdesigns.comMale Red-winged Blackbird perched on a cattail. Red-winged Blackbirds use the fluff of cattails as nesting material.

Male Red-winged Blackbird Love Song (turn up your volume)

Wednesday morning’s exquisite sunrise from Pirate’s Lane

Freemantle Doctor Fishing Boat Rockport ©Kim Smith 2015F/V Freemantle Doctor Heading Out

The sun’s light at daybreak coming up over the harbor after the snowstorm lent a golden aura to all. I find our neighborhood–the people, the architecture, the boats, the sweet little robins–to be a never ending source of inspiration. See panoramic view of Smith’s Cove sunrise, posted yesterday.

Cape Pond Ice winter Gloucester Harbor ©Kim Smith 2015Cape Pond Ice

Smith's Cove Gloucester ©Kim Smith 2015Smith’s Cove

Gloucester City Hall winter snow @Kim Smith 2015Gloucester City Hall

Our Lady of Good Voyage winter snow Gloucester harbor ©kim Smith 2015Our Lady of Good Voyage Church

Americold ©Kim Smith 2015Americold

Maritime Heritage Gloucester winter snow ©Kim Smith 2015Maritime Gloucester

Pirate's Lane Arbor ©Kim Smith 2015

East Gloucester Americna Robin ©Kim Smith 2015Pirate’s Lane Robin

xx

 

What to Feed the Robins

American Robin in the Snow ©Kim Smith 2014The robins in our community have several different habits for surviving winter. There are year round resident robins that breed throughout Cape Ann during warmer months and also spend the winter here.  A second group only breeds in our region, then migrates further south during the winter months. A third group, the robins that we see flocking to our shores beginning round about January 28th, are migrating from parts further north. They are very hungrand are looking for berries, fruit, and small fish.

In early spring, robins begin to disperse from flocks. The ground thaws and worms, insects, and snails once again become part of the robin’s diet. In early spring, too, is when we begin to hear the beautiful liquid notes of the male robin. He is singing to attract a mate. The robin’s song is one of the of most beloved and it is his music with which we associate the coming of spring.

With several edits and updates since I first wrote the following article, I think you’ll find the information helpful in knowing what to feed and to plant for the robins.

American Robin Sumac ©Kim Smith 2014Flock of American Robins Eating Sumac, Halibut Point Rockport

Food for the American Robin

During the winter months Cape Ann often becomes home to large flocks of robins, and we have had the joy of hosting numerous numbers in our garden. I can’t help but notice their arrival. Their shadows descend, crisscrossing the window light, followed by a wild rumpus in the ‘Dragon Lady’ hollies. This pair of hollies is planted on opposing sides of the garden path, alongside my home office. I have learned to stealthily sneak up to a window, as any sudden activity inside startles birds that are investigating our garden, and they quickly disperse. Dining not only on berries of the ‘Dragon Ladies’, but also the ‘Blue Princess’ Meserve holly and winterberry bushes, I find dozens of noisy, hungry robins.

These winter nomads flock to trees and shrubs that hold their fruit through January and February, feasting on red cedar, American holly, Meserve hollies, chokecherries, crabapples, sumac, and juniper. Robins traveling along the shores of Cape Ann also comb the shoreline for mollusks, and go belly-deep for fish fry. Depleting their food supply, they move onto the next location. Gardens rife with fruiting shrubs and trees make an ideal destination for our migrating friends.

Year round resident robins will call your garden home when provided with trays of chopped fruit and raisins, supplemented with meal worms.

What to Plant for Robins

The garden designed to attract nesting pairs of summer resident robins, as well as flocks of winter travelers, would be comprised of trees and shrubs for nest building, plants that bear fruit and berries that are edible during the summer and fall, and plants that bear fruits that persist through the winter months. Suburban gardens and agricultural areas provide the ideal habitat, with open fields and lawns for foraging insects as well as trees and hedgerows in which to build their nests.

The following plants, suggested with robins in mind, will also attract legions of songbirds and Lepidoptera. The list is comprised primarily of indigenous species with a few non-native, but not invasive, plants included.

Trees for nesting ~ American Holly (Ilex opaca), Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Red Maple (Acer rubrum), Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida).

Summer and autumn fruit bearing trees, shrubs and vines for robins ~ Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), Blackberry (Rubus spp.), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida), Gray Dogwood (C. racemosa), Red-osier Dogwood (C. sericea), Silky Dogwood (C. amomum), Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), Apple (Malus pumila), Virginia Rose (Rosa virginiana), Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), Wild Grape (Vitis spp.).

Trees and shrubs with fruits persisting through winter ~ Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), Mountain Ash (Sorbus americana), Crabapple (Malus spp.)Sargent’s Crabapple (Malus sargentii), American Holly (Ilex opaca), Meserve Hollies (Ilex meserveae), Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Common Juniper (Juniperus communis), Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra), Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina).

American Robin winter crabapple turdus migratorius, americanus ©kim Smith 2015American Robin Eating Crabapples

I Love Sumac

Worms!

The American Robin and Bird Food

The Winter ROBINS HAVE RETURNED!

American Robin winter crabapple turdus migratorius, americanus ©kim Smith 2015American Robin and Crabapples

Right on schedule, the robins have returned to our East Gloucester neighborhood! They were seen flocking to the holly berries, crabapples and sumac. This morning it was bleak and drizzly; I hope to see them back in our neighborhood on a sunnier day!

For more information about robins see previous posts here:

Baby Robins!

The American Robin and Bird Food

I Love Sumac

Birds of New England: The American Robin and Bird Food!

American Robin American holly ©Kim Smirh 2014Right on schedule! Beautiful and welcome migrant flocks of American Robins arrive annually in Gloucester during the months of January and February, dining on local fruits, berries and fish fry.

During the winter months Cape Ann often becomes home to large flocks of robins, and we have had the joy of hosting numerous numbers in our garden. I can’t help but notice their arrival. Their shadows descend, crisscrossing the window light, followed by a wild rumpus in the ‘Dragon Lady’ hollies. This pair of hollies is planted on opposing sides of the garden path, alongside my home office. I have learned to stealthily sneak up to a window, as any sudden activity inside startles birds that are investigating our garden, and they quickly disperse. Dining not only on berries of the ‘Dragon Ladies’, but also the ‘Blue Princess’ Meserve holly and winterberry bushes, I find dozens of noisy, hungry robins.

These winter nomads flock to trees and shrubs that hold their fruit through January and February, feasting on red cedar, American holly, Meserve hollies, chokecherries, crabapples, and juniper. Robins traveling along the shores of Cape Ann also comb the shoreline for mollusks, and go belly-deep for fish fry. Depleting their food supply, they move onto the next location. Gardens rife with fruiting shrubs and trees make an ideal destination for our migrating friends.

Eastern Red Cedar American Robin ©Kim Smith 2014American Robin Eating Eastern Red Cedar Fruits

Habitat Gardening Tip:

The garden designed to attract nesting pairs of summer resident robins, as well as flocks of winter travelers, would be comprised of trees and shrubs for nest building, plants that bear fruit and berries that are edible during the summer and fall, and plants that bear fruits that persist through the winter months. Suburban gardens and agricultural areas provide the ideal habitat, with open fields and lawns for foraging insects as well as trees and hedgerows in which to build their nests.

The following plants, suggested with robins in mind, will also attract legions of songbirds and Lepidoptera. The list is comprised primarily of indigenous species with a few non-native, but not invasive, plants included.

Trees for nesting ~ American Holly (Ilex opaca), Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Red Maple (Acer rubrum), Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida).

Summer and autumn fruit bearing trees, shrubs and vines for robins ~ Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), Blackberry (Rubus spp.), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida), Gray Dogwood (C. racemosa), Red-osier Dogwood (C. sericea), Silky Dogwood (C. amomum), Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), Apple (Malus pumila), Virginia Rose (Rosa virginiana), Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), Wild Grape (Vitis spp.).

Trees and shrubs with fruits persisting through winter ~ Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), Mountain Ash (Sorbus americana), Crabapple (Malus spp.)Sargent’s Crabapple (Malus sargentii), American Holly (Ilex opaca), Meserve Hollies (Ilex meserveae), Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Common Juniper (Juniperus communis), Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra), Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina).

Eastern Red Cedar Juniperus virginiana  copyBird Food: Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus viginiana)

To read more, with additional photos of the American Robin see previous posts:

Round Robin Redbreast

Round Robin Redbreast Snowy Day Video

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

Winterberry Ilex verticillata © Kim Smith 2014Bird Food: Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)

American Robin in Dogwood tree ©Kim Smith 2014Robin at dawn this morning after the storm

Round Robin Redbreast Snowy Day Video

Round Robin Red Breast

What’s that you say? A flock of robins, in winter?

Yes, yes! Sweetly singing liquid notes. A flock in my garden!

What does a hungry round robin find to eat in a winter garden?

Red, red winterberries and holly, rime-sweetend crabapples, and orchard fruits.

And how does a winter robin keep warm?

Why, blanketed together with air-puffed fluffed feathers.

How long will they stay, how long can they last in the frost?

Only as there are fruits on the bough and berries on the bush.

Round robin red breast, silhouette in bare limb,

Calling away winter, cheer, cheerio, and cheer-up!

Each year we are visited by a breathtakingly beautiful migrant flock of American Robins. This year they arrived on leap day, many weeks later than is typical. There wasn’t much to eat as the Mocking Birds and Catbirds have eaten nearly all the berries on the Dragon Lady hollies. Fortunately, the winterberry had held its fruit. Unfortunately, the aggressive and pesky European Starlings were competing for what little fruit remained.

The following was originally posted December 2010 ~

The widely distributed and beloved American Robin (Turdus migratorius) hardly needs an introduction. The American Robin is the largest member of the thrush family—thrushes are known for their liquid birdsongs and the robin is no exception. Their unmistakable presence is made known when, by early spring, the flocks have dispersed and we see individual robins strutting about the landscape with fat worms dangling. Unmistakable, too, is the male’s beautiful birdsongs, signaling to competing males to establish their territory, as well as to entice prospective females.Read more about the American Robin including suggestions of native plants that provide nourishment for resident and nomad.

Solutions for Protecting Birds from Hitting Windows

Every year, in the United States alone, over 1,000,000,000—yes, that is one billon—birds are killed from flying into windows. Chris Leahy quoted this statistic at the talk he gave last week at the Sawyer Free Library. Coincidentally, earlier that day I had been speaking with my friend Kate who has this very problem of birds hitting her windows as her home is sited on a beautiful seaside meadow in Tiverton, Rhode Island. She wanted to share with my readers about spider web decals for glass windows.

I found a website that offers a range of innovative solutions to protect birds, for both the residential home and the commercial property, TONI Bird Control Solutions. Although based in Germany, the solutions are universal.

Spider webs reflect light in the UV spectrum and are a visible barrier to birds. When you think about it, we don’t often see birds entangled in a spider’s web. Taking cues from nature, the spider’s web is the basis for TONI’s ultraviolet bird pen, bird glass, and UV decals. TONI’s solution #2, the ultraviolet Bird Pen, is well suited for residential properties. Also, check with the Essex Bird Shop and Pet Suuply. I believe they carry ultraviolet decals, not visible to the human eye.

American Robin 

If so many birds are killed, why don’t we see the dead bodies? The answer is simply, scavengers. Migrant songbirds fly at night, hitting the glass in the dark and the very early morning hours. Scavengers like gulls, vultures, crows, magpies, rats, and cats know where to look for injured and dead birds. At city skyscrapers, building maintenance daily sweep up bags of, and sometimes during peak migration, barrels full of, dead birds every morning at dawn. The high death rate around skyscrapers is also due in part to the bright lights left burning all night.

Another solution is perhaps not wash your windows quite as frequently, or wait to wash until after the spring and fall migrations. Fortunately, we do not have the problem of birds hitting our windows because of our many weathered and wavy window panes dating back to 1851. We have a different problem. During warmer months, I like to take advantage of the harbor breezes and usually have the windows wide open, and without screens (until mosquito season begins). We’ve had finches and sparrows and hummingbirds flying around my home office, but then again, none fatally injured.

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

The Robin is the One

That interrupt the Morn

With hurried — few — express Reports

When March is scarcely on —

The Robin is the One

That overflow the Noon

With her cherubic quantity —

An April but begun —

The Robin is the One

That speechless from her Nest

Submit that Home — and Certainty

And Sanctity, are best            – Emily Dickinson

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)American Robin

They’re back this winter, and in legions! The Robins have returned to our garden to feast on the fruits of the ‘Dragon Lady’ hollies. For more information on the American Robin see older post: Round Robin Red-breast.

American Robin (Turdus migratorius) ©Kim Smith 2010

American Robin (Turdus migratorius) tailfeathers Beautiful Tailfeathers!


American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

Songbirds in Winter ~ Sharing Recent Letters from Readers

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)American Robin

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –


And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –

And sore must be the storm –

That could abash the little bird

That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –

And on the strangest Sea –

Yet, never, in Extremity,

It asked a crumb – of Me         –  Emily Dickinson

Dear Gardening Friends,  Please forgive when I am slow to answer your kind and thoughtful letters. I am struggling with an elbow injury and have had to limit my writing and photography somewhat (with extreme reluctance!!!). I love to hear about your bird and butterfly encounters, so please, keep your letters coming–just know that I am slow! Warmest wishes, Kim

From Jeannette in Marblehead – Kim Happy New Year, So enjoy your emails.  Walter and I were in Gloucester in November and drove by your home to try to peak at your garden but of course, it was the end of November and the gardens were sleeping.   It looked enchanting with the little sparkling lights. A quick questions where does one find the Nyjer feeder and seeds.  We have been so unsuccessful, all our bird feeders in the past have become squirrel feeders. I  hope to come and see your gardens this Spring/Summer.

Dear Jeannette, We purchase Nyjer and safflower seeds from our local Essex Bird Shop and Pet Supply and I imagine most Mom and Pop type bird and pet supply shops stock both varieties of seeds as well as the Nyjer seed feeder. I like looking at the Duncraft website–they have quite a selection of Nyjer seed feeders. We have the very basic single tube feeders, but I lust after their three tube copper feeder. I wonder if they photoshopped all those finches!

From Judy in Gloucester –Thanks for the wonderful information, Kim.  I have what I think is a sparrow that spends each evening tucked into the corner of the little porch over my side door facing your house. S/he is there reliably every late afternoon as soon as it is dark and leaves in the early morning.  It was the same routine last year.  I’m wondering if it’s the same bird every evening and perhaps even the same bird last year and this.

Dear Judy, I can’t say for sure without seeing a photo or the actual bird, however, House Finches and European House Sparrows are well known for their habit of nesting in the eaves. We have had several pairs of House Finches build their nests on top of the porch pillars that are tucked under the porch roof, as well as House Sparrows sleeping overnight in the same areas, just as you describe yours. I would think it is the same bird every evening and possibly from year to year. House Sparrows are year round residents on Cape Ann (and nearly everywhere else).

From Joan in Gloucester –Dear Kim, As always, I enjoy your email messages. We use Nyger seed for one feeder, as well as sunflower seed for another and sunflower hearts for the third. We happily feed whoever comes to eat‹birds (our preference), but the cleverness and ingenuity of squirrels as well as their acrobatic antics have brought us much laughter over the years. For a while we tried many different types of feeders guaranteed to defeat squirrels, but found that the squirrels almost always could find their way to defeat the feeder designers.

It turns out that we also feed a lot of pigeons, starlings and other (I consider) less than appealing species of birds, but in the end, we are feeding hungry creatures who are our neighbors (including a brown rat who lives in the marsh next to our yard).

I love watching the various eaters and how they perch on nearby trees or shrubs waiting their turn, having little spats, diving in to disrupt each other, chasing each other away and reflecting the behavior of the humans who occupy our world in many of the same ways.

Thanks for your always wonderful photographs and the information that is so interesting.

Gratefully, Joan

From Diane in Ipswich –Hi Kim,I so enjoy your e-mails!  Today one of our “mystery birds” was identified in your e-mail!  We have had Eastern Towhees in our yard the past couple of weeks.  I could not find them in my Audubon book.  I saw Eastern Towhee mentioned in the e-mail and googled it to see what that was and voila!  There was our mystery bird!

We have also had many Pine Siskins lately.  I did not know what they were called either!

I too delight in watching the birds. I have two sets of feeders and keep them well stocked with Nyger, woodpecker food, black oil sunflowers and suet.  I also throw millet, sunflower and sometimes, as a treat, peanuts in the shell for the ground birds – and squirrels.  Since I have been doing that the squirrels leave the feeders alone.  Although watching their acrobatics on the feeders is very entertaining!

The birds I know the names of that are here in my Argilla Rd. Ipswich yard are chickadees, siskins, red & yellow finches, various sparrow like birds, a wren or two, towhees, titmouses, lots of juncos, two kinds of woodpeckers, mourning doves, blue jays and 3 or 4 pairs of cardinals.  Sometimes the chickadees will eat out of my hand.  What a feeling! Have a lovely day!

Dianne Fischbach

Ipswich Garden Club

CBR, CRS, GRI, Green

Broker / Owner

Coast & Country Real Estate

From the Byers in Gloucester – Thanks for your very interesting email on Pine Siskins! I have never been able to identify any on the feeders previously, but thanks to your excellent photo (which I printed & stuck in my bird book) I may now have a chance. We have all the rest of the gang, goldfinches, chickadees, 2 var of nuthatches, titmice, purple (or maybe house) finches, juncos (ours seem to be much darker than your photo shows) & of course, zillions of sparrows. So maybe we can now separate out those pine siskins. Thanks again!

A quick note on the subject of butterflies: if you haven’t seen it yet, you should, & I would say ASAP.  The Library has, in their 1st display case on right as you go in the front, a fantastic display of tropical butterflies! The story Tom & I got from a couple of the librarians is that these display trays they have were seized by customs authorities for some malfeasance; & that customs has the option, instead of destroying the stuff, to “lend” it to educational, nonprofit, etc. institutions. I would suspect they will not be on display for long, & probably the fluorescent overhead lights would in any case be detrimental to the magnificent colors.

Best wishes & here’s to an EARLY spring! Ann (& Tom) Byers Western Ave., Gloucester

From Sally on the South Shore – Hi Kim — I just heard yesterday for squirrrel proof feeders, you hang a SLINKY at the top!   Remember them?   I guess a toy store would be the place to look.   I am going to get 2 and can’t wait to see if it works.   Love your column.   Sally Goodrich

Hi Sally, let me know if slinkies do the trick!


Round Robin Redbreast

Round Robin Redbreast

What’s that you say? A flock of robins, in winter?

Yes, yes! Sweetly singing liquid notes. A flock in my garden!

What does a hungry round robin find to eat in a winter garden?

Red, red winterberries and holly, rime-sweetend crabapples, and orchard fruits.

And how does a winter robin keep warm?

Why, blanketed together with air-puffed fluffed feathers.

How long will they stay, how long can they last in the frost?

Only as there are fruits on the bough and berries on the bush.

Round robin red breast, silhouette in bare limb,

Calling away winter, cheer, cheerio, and cheer-up!  

– Kim Smith

The widely distributed and beloved American Robin (Turdus migratorius) hardly needs an introduction. The American Robin is the largest member of the thrush family—thrushes are known for their liquid birdsongs and the robin is no exception. Their unmistakable presence is made known when, by early spring, the flocks have dispersed and we see individual robins strutting about the landscape with fat worms dangling. Unmistakable, too, is the male’s beautiful birdsongs, signaling to competing males to establish their territory, as well as to entice prospective females.

The boundaries of the American Robin winter migration areas are not clearly defined. The robin’s winter range covers southern Canada to Guatemala, compared to their summer nesting range, which extends from the tree limit of Canada to southern Mexico. Robins that nest in Massachusetts, for the most part, migrate further south. Robins nesting in northern Canada migrate to their tropic-of-New England get-away.

During the winter months Cape Ann often becomes home to large flocks of robins and we have had the joy of hosting numerous numbers in late afternoon and early morning. I can’t help but notice their arrival to our garden. Their shadows descend, crisscrossing the window light, followed by a wild rumpus in the ‘Dragon Lady’ hollies. This pair of hollies is planted on opposing sides of the garden path, alongside my home office. I have learned to stealthily sneak up to a window, as any sudden activity inside startles birds that are investigating our garden, and they quickly disperse. Dining not only on berries of the ‘Dragon Ladies’, but also the ‘Blue Princess’ Meserve holly and winterberry bushes, are generally speaking dozens of noisy, hungry robins. These winter nomads flock to trees and shrubs that hold their fruit through winter, feasting on red cedar, American holly, Meserve hollies, chokecherries, crabapples, and juniper. Robins traveling near the sea will comb the shoreline for mollusks and go belly-deep for fish fry. Depleting their food supply, they move onto the next location. Gardens rife with fruiting shrubs and trees make an ideal destination for our migrating friends.

The garden designed to attract pairs of summer resident robins as well as flocks of winter travelers would be comprised of trees and shrubs for nest building, plants that bear fruit and berries that are edible during the summer and fall, and plants that bear fruits that persist through the winter months. Suburban gardens and agricultural areas provide the ideal habitat, with open fields and lawns for foraging insects as well as trees and hedgerows in which to build their nests.

Robins in New England breed from April through July, often bearing three clutches. Nests are built in the crotch of trees and dense bushes, five to fifteen feet above ground, and some are occasionally made on the ground or built on protruding ledges of homes. The female robin weaves a cup-shaped foundation of coarse grass, twigs, paper and feathers, and then lines the bowl with mud she smears and packs firmly with her breast. Later she adds soft fibers such as fine grass and downy feathers to cushion the egg. The first nest is usually placed in an evergreen tree or shrub; for each subsequent clutch a new nest is built and generally placed in a deciduous tree.

The following plants, suggested with robins in mind, will also attract legions of songbirds (and Lepidoptera). The list is comprised primarily of indigenous species with a few non-native, but not invasive plants included.

Trees for nesting ~ American Holly (Ilex opaca), Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Red Maple (Acer rubrum), Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida).

Summer and autumn fruit bearing trees, shrubs and vines for robins ~ Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), Blackberry (Rubus spp.), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida), Gray Dogwood (C. racemosa), Red-osier Dogwood (C. sericea), Silky Dogwood (C. amomum), Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), Apple (Malus pumila), Virginia Rose (Rosa virginiana), Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), Wild Grape (Vitis spp.).

Trees and shrubs with fruits persisting through winter ~ Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), Mountain Ash (Sorbus americana), Crabapple (Malus spp.), Sargent’s Crabapple (Malus sargentii), American Holly (Ilex opaca), Meserve Hollies (Ilex x meserveae), Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Common Juniper (Juniperus communis), Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra), Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina).