Migrant robins arriving in the NorthlandThanks to the calendar-correction factor of leap year, this year’s vernal equinox happened in the pre-dawn hours of March 20, a bit earlier than most years. And even if this follows a milder winter than usual, it may have not come too soon for many Northlanders.
By: Larry Weber, for the Duluth Budgeteer News
Thanks to the calendar-correction factor of leap year, this year’s vernal equinox happened in the pre-dawn hours of March 20, a bit earlier than most years. And even if this follows a milder winter than usual, it may have not come too soon for many Northlanders. With daylight now outlasting darkness, we see more spring happenings each day. The last week of March is often a time of the first dandelions and the first crocuses to bloom in the sunlit “hot spots.” Sugar maples are gushing with a full sap-flow while their cousins, the silver maples, are starting to bloom. And there’s plenty more in the animal world.
The slow movement of migrants in midmonth now speeds up. Flocks of Canada geese and swans or various ducks and mergansers are in the open waters. Occasionally, a great blue heron may be nearby in the shallows. More red-tailed hawks, kestrels and harriers can be seen hunting along roadsides and we may also see turkey vultures. But in late March, I find that we not only see some of these northing birds, but we hear them as well.
This is the time when I walk out to a swamp each morning in hopes of hearing the “conk-a-lee” song of the red-winged blackbird. These newly arrived males are quick to proclaim ownership of this wetland site. Their song is sent out to other red-wings, but for those of us who winter here, their proclamations are a delightful announcement of spring. In nearby fields, the camouflaged killdeer calls and when I return to this site at dusk, I’ll listen to the “pneet” calls of the performing woodcocks. Another well-known songster adds its voice to the vernal choir at this time too: the robin.
When asked to name a sign of spring, many would say the sight of a robin. This is always a great sight, but only partially the harbinger of the new season. Many of these thrushes have learned to survive in the Northland for the whole winter. And with a change of diet, mostly fruits, and some shelter, they will make it through the cold times and already be here when their migrating cousins arrive in late March. These newly arrived robins tend to act differently from the wintering birds. I find that the migrant flocks are very active and more vocal. And though good numbers may have remained here all winter, it is these new arrivals of late March that are quick to sing. It seems like each year, just a few days after their arrival, the birds give their delightful and much appreciated songs. And spring dawns are no longer the same.
Flocks may have moved north together. They may have shown up here as a unit, but when it comes to the nesting sites, they will not remain as a group. These early-arriving males select trees of yards and parks to sing while others may continue to move north for breeding sites beyond our neighborhoods. Songs at this time are meant to notify other males of a place being taken. Occasionally, we may witness a confrontation. Females come back a little later and are courted by these same and similar melodies.
We quickly get used to their presence and many of us will host a nest near the house. And they seem to take advantage of their notoriety and their popularity and quickly they proceed to raise a family here. Robin songs will continue through the weeks ahead often into summer, but for those of us who look forward to the coming of spring, their songs at this time seems to be the most welcomed.
Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods” and “Webwood.” Contact him c/o email@example.com.