Bainbridge Island, WA – Our gorgeous spring time days are full of the sounds of wonder. Each sunrise begins a symphony of bird voices rising to a fevered pitch, then quieting into delightful chirps and flutey stanzas punctuating the rest of the day.
One of the most common sounds of spring is the call of the American Robin. Known for their red breast and cheery song, they are one of the most recognizable birds in North America. Like most songbirds, Robins have several songs or calls, but contrary to all our romantic notions, the robin’s song is not an indicator of his happy mood, but rather communicates a message to potential mates and rival males.
Both male and female robins even sing during the winter as a way of defending their feeding territories. If you stop to observe robins and what is going on around them, you just might be able to translate their calls… from “Look at me, I’m a really handsome guy” to “This is my territory, beat it!”
Most birds also have the amazing ability to build nests to cradle their eggs and provide a playpen for their young. Interestingly, every bird species seems to have a signature design when it comes to nest blueprints. Bird nest architecture can make a fascinating study in its own right, an unusual branch of bird science known as Caliology.
Robins build tidy nests using hundreds of pieces of twigs and grass, held together with mud. Both the male and female gather the materials but the female is usually the chief architect. As the pair make hundreds of trips with beaks full of mud and plant material, the female weaves and pastes components together then pushes her body against the soft mud to form a smooth cup. A final coating of fine grass lines the nest in preparation for three to four blue eggs. The parents will raise two to three clutches of young each year and often build a new nest for each set of offspring.
Bird and insect eggs and nests are a treat to find and can be discovered in the most unexpected places. Search high and low for evidence that a new generation is on the way. Marvel at the vast diversity and innovative design unique to each species.
When you track wonder, pause to delight in the common sights and look for subtle clues that will lead you to hidden spheres of extraordinary design.
Cultivate Wonder… Discover Design
When and Where – The American Robin is widespread and can be seen year round in the more temperate coastal regions of western western Washington and Oregon . It is common to see them hopping over the ground in search of worms and other invertebrates. Listen for their clear crisp notes all day long… cheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up. The female will make a more stressful beak clacking call if you are too close to her nest. To hear Robin and other bird calls, go to allaboutbirds.org
Robins are one of the first birds to build their nests in the spring and are common in populated areas. Watch for birds of all kinds carrying mouthfuls of grasses, twigs, or in the case of the Robin, mud. Remember birds only use their nests for raising their young, so you will not see them on sitting in their nests at night unless there are eggs to brood. Nests can become full of bird mites, droppings and other unpleasant things that keep birds from wanting to spend too much time in them once the chicks are gone. Never move a nest with eggs in it or touch an object that belongs to a wild bird with your bare hands. Kitsap Audubon maintains a website with local birding sites and information.
Some other nests you may see in our area– Large messy branch nests of the Great Blue Heron, Cormorants, Eagles, Osprey – Small bird nests in trees and bushes – Ground nests of the Junco, Killdeer – Insect eggs on the underside of leaves or whole hives lashed to tree branches, cocoons and chrysalises – Marine fish and snail eggs on the underside of beach rocks. You will be surprised by how many you start to find when you are watching for them.
Wonder Triggers for Young Trackers
Think about the eggs you have seen. Do they have anything in common… shape, color, texture, thickness? When you handle a chicken’s egg, what do you notice about it? If the egg was outside in your yard, what could happen to it? (predators, heat, wind, rolling and falling, being stepped on, etc.
Remember that birds do not have hands and must build their nests with their mouths and bodies. In the spring, put some materials in your yard that you think a bird may use in their nest, then watch from a safe distance for a few days to see what happens. Your piece of string might end up in a nest!
Watch for other kinds of bird and insect eggs and nests. Try to think like a bird or insect. Where would be the best places to hide a nest for camouflage, shelter and safety?
References and Resources
All About Birds – American Robin
Sound to Sage – Breeding Bird Atlas
Journey North Learner – Robin Nests
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife – Living with Wildlife
Images: SPegany ©2018