Foam Lake Birding No. 8

No. 8
There is no scene more idyllic than a Robin singing in an apple tree in full blossom. I tried, but was unable to capture the moment on film before the blossoms fell off. Birds are not always cooperative. I did manage to get a picture of a Robin taking a bath and seemingly enjoying it. A bird bath, especially in a hot dry summer, will attract birds more readily than a feeder. In summer, food is plentiful; water is not.
Bird baths come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, materials and motifs with prices to match. From the bird’s perspective, none of that matters. All they want is water to bathe in and to drink. Maintenance is low. All one has to do is to rinse out the bath every several days and fill it with fresh water. This way the birds have clean water and mosquito larvae are destroyed. However, there are a few basic things to consider when buying or making a bird bath. First, the bath should be placed some distance above the ground. This makes it more difficult for predators to sneak up on the birds, and it, also, keeps unwanted creatures, such as mice and frogs, out. Second, the bath should be a shallow basin with a smooth bottom with no island in the middle. Islands reduce space discouraging birds from bathing. Third, baths with electric heaters should be avoided. In the summer, they are not needed; in the winter, they are dangerous. When most water sources are frozen, a heated bird bath is a magnet for birds. The problem is that the bird’s feathers get soaked when bathing, thus providing no insulation from the cold. The bird, then, flies off to roost, only to be exposed to the cold resulting in hypothermia. Depending on the temperature, birds can and do freeze to death. It is best to work in harmony with nature, and put the bird bath in storage when frosts come. Good and inexpensive bird baths can be purchased at the hardware stores in town.
There are eight different Robins in Mexico, four in the USA, but only one in Canada – the American Robin. Yes, it is called the American Robin for the same reason our Goldfinch is called the American Goldfinch. For reasons previously stated, I will refer to it simply as the Robin – which is what everybody does anyway. It is the only Robin that migrates, and its Latin name, “migratory thrush” reflects that
. It should be pointed out that Robins belong to a larger group of birds called thrushes. Many feel that thrushes are the finest songsters in the world (who has not heard of the Nightingale?). Because they are primarily insect eaters, thrushes are difficult to maintain in captivity as opposed to seed eaters such as finches. In addition to maintenance problems, thrushes do not like to sing in captivity. Therefore, thrushes (including Robins) have not been used in the caged bird trade.
There is very little point in describing the Robin in detail as just about everybody is familiar with the bird and its vocalizations. However, there are some characteristics to note. The females are a slightly paler version of the males. Robins in eastern Canada are darker than ours in the west - the backs are blacker and the breasts are redder. Often when Robins are at rest, especially on warm days, they “hang” their wings down by their sides giving them the appearance that they are not feeling well. They, also, make a sound which very few people recognize - a drawn out, high pitched, whistled squeal which resembles that of the common gopher! To date, there is no good explanation why the Robin does it. Listen for it.
One nice thing about Robins is that they sing all summer long, not just during courtship. Furthermore, they, more than any other bird, sing well past sunset and long before sunrise. In fact, occasionally, one will burst into song in the middle of the night - a bad dream, perhaps? Anyway, the young, with their spotted breasts, are fledging now and, frequently, our yards should have youngsters squawking for food and harrying their parents. The adults will not sing as much – too tired?