Avian Love Stories - Romance and Tragedy
By Sam Nunes, Environmental Educator - May 2018
Now that spring has finally come and nature is waking up from its winter dormancy, we are starting to see the leaves growing on the trees, the frogs chirping at night, and the birds singing throughout the day. This is a very important time of the year for our feathered friends. After returning from a migration, it’s time for them to start thinking about making a nest and raising young.
Robins are one of the most common birds we see in the springtime. They can be identified by their grayish brown tops and the orange chest feathers. The females are similar to the males except they are paler. Each member of a pair is never far away from each other. If you listen you can hear them softly chirping back and forth so they know they’re still close. Robins eat earthworms and other insects as well as berries from trees and shrubs. You can find them scurrying around on your lawn looking for juicy earthworms especially in the morning and after a rainfall. They like to make their nest in shrubs and branches low to the ground, but they can also be found in gutters and outdoor lights. They use feathers, roots, grass, twigs and even paper reinforced with mud to build their nest. Their eggs are a very distinctive bright blue, and each nest has about 3 to 5 eggs.
Robins are excellent examples of the mating behavior that goes on during the spring. Once they find a pair and their territory, you can clearly see how they defend it from any invader who could compete for resources and even their female pair. You can find robin territories by watching them as they scurry around your yard and when they seem to hit an imaginary line that they do not cross, that is their border. A lot of times these lines are our streets which divide lawns and other green spaces into clearly defined areas for the birds. If they do cross it, they risk attack from neighboring robins. Male against male conflicts are common during this time of year because of resource and mate defenses.
This is also a dangerous time for the birds. When the males are trying to woo their female counterparts, they become blinded by love. They follow the female wherever she goes in attempts to win her favor. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue for the birds but when the female crosses the street, the male follows her with a single purpose and becomes at risk of car strikes. Robins are low fliers to save energy so they stay at just about the height of a car grill. Robins are not the only birds at risk. Sparrows, finches, bluebirds, and many other species are also crossing our streets. A 2014 USA Today article states that research estimates 89-340 million birds are struck by vehicles on US roads annually. The large difference in estimates is because of missed birds due of scavengers and other limitations. The best and easiest way to reduce the risk of bird strikes is to drive carefully through wooded and residential roads and keep watch for sudden flying birds across the street. Once you get out of the car or when you find yourself outside, take a moment to stop and listen. Bird’s songs are meant to attract other birds, but their peaceful melodies catch our ears as well!