Sunday, January 05, 2014

Why are robins in the Shenandoah Valley in January? UPDATED

 A robin sat in our red bud this morning as freezing rain fell in 33-degree weather.

As freezing rain falls outside on a frigid January morning, robins -- those birds of spring -- hop around and light on tree limbs. What?

We first noticed robins on the lawn a week before Christmas. They seemed to be hanging out with the grackles, those flocks of black birds that swoop in by the hundreds. The robins and their red breasts, however, stood out against the bleak winter landscape. We figured they must be late heading south and just passing through.

Three weeks later, they're still hanging around. There have been some extremely cold mornings with temps in the teens when robins have been seen hopping in the yard looking for worms: hop hop hop, pause, cock head to side ... hop hop hop, pause, cock head to side. I didn't see any actually find a worm -- the ground must have been frozen solid on those mornings -- but have seen them in trees and in the wisteria vines. Finding bugs?

This morning I'm a little concerned because not only is there freezing rain falling but there's an arctic deep-freeze heading our way with lows tomorrow night possibly plummeting into the minus numbers on the thermometer. Brrrr.

Has anyone else seen them? They usually return in March. Any ideas on what's going on?

UPDATE: My Appalachian Trail friend provided a link to a website about robins wintering over with lots of info. Thanks, Merlot!

The link she provided was from the Journey North blog titled American Robin. What a great resource of information about these usually-springtime friends. I don't have to worry about them in the cold after reading Journey North's blog:
Every autumn robins migrate south. We humans have an intuitive sense that the robins are trying to escape cold weather, but every winter at least some robins stay in the northern states and southern Canada. Robins have survived blinding blizzards, ice storms, and nights as cold as 30 below zero without human help. Regardless of how cold it is on the outside of their feathers, their body temperature under the feathers is about 104 degrees. How do they stay warm enough to survive? Their thick down feathers hold body heat in. They produce body heat by shivering. And they get the energy to shiver from their food.
Sounds like our visitors will be just fine. Check out the rest of Journey North's post about robins wintering over for some helpful and very interesting info. Guess I'm going to kick back, stop worrying, and enjoy the unusual phenomenon of robins in my yard during winter.

Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell
January 5, 2014

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