For as long as I can remember, I have seldom needed an alarm clock. I typically awake on my own, without having my dreams disrupted by bothersome beeping. While human sleep and wake cycles result from nature and nurture, in birds these patterns are inborn. I vaguely recollect learning about a ”bird clock” many years back that outlined the sequence in which feathered beings greet the new day. Commencing several hours before and extending well past the emergence of the solar orb, avians don’t need an alarm clock either, but might serve as one instead. In contrast to artificial jingles, these are the wake-up calls I welcome.
I have visited or lived in Colorado Springs off and on for over twenty years, but have resided here permanently for only the last five. Familiarizing myself with our local bird population has been a pleasure and delight. While we are blessed with rare visitors of exquisite color and beauty, especially during spring and fall migrations, the resident denizens, though possibly less spectacular, are nonetheless a joy, and accompany us during many months. Singling out an individual species is a subjective exercise, but I want to sing the praises of a frequent backyard companion.
American Robins (which bear little resemblance to European Robins) are known throughout the contiguous 48 states, Alaska, and wide stretches of Canada. Even though, in theory, they don’t depart from Colorado in the winter, they are conspicuously absent from our vicinity. During that season they flock to portions of El Paso County that provide them with one of their favorite foods. Next to earthworms that fill their stomachs during warmer periods, they relish berries, and a paucity of those globular stores of energy compels them to relocate to areas of abundance.
In affirmation of an old proverb, their absence during our frigid spells makes my heart grow fonder and fills me with longing for their return, and, come February or March, I rejoice when I first behold them. Handsomely attired, their slate-colored head, back, and wings, orange-red belly, and well-placed touches of white are as cheering as their carols.
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
European Robin (Erithacus rubecula)
Despite their homecoming before the vernal equinox, before the last snow has yet to make an appearance, and when the cold of winter might linger for months, they promise the advent of spring. The early flocks disperse as the weeks progress, and gather in pairs for the breeding season. I enjoy watching them hop or hurry across the lawn, or sit with wings draped next to their bodies, penguin-like. At our bird feeder they perform aerial acrobatics by hovering next to a suet-filled log, in an attempt to glean tasty morsels from it, and they frequently wait for me in the morning to refill their buffet.
Robins are among the earliest risers, and are the first creatures I hear before daybreak. At the height of summer, their morning concert commences as early as 3:30. An introductory chatter is followed by a series of chirps which transitions into a harmonious phrase repeated many times over. The bellwether is soon joined by another singer, and another… After a while I lose count until all I hear are echoes reverberating from adjoining lots, soon complemented by novel melodies and voices. Interestingly, the robins’ tunes diminish before the emergence of the sun, and their vocalizations during the day are intermittent, only to crescendo again past sunset, as if to remind the listener of their continued presence. Their soli outlast those of other performers, and provide a musical bookend to the day.
Members of the thrush family, reputed to comprise some of the most accomplished vocalists, robins remind me of prevalent songsters of my childhood in Germany, Eurasian Blackbirds, which might account for my favoring robinsong. In the bird world, the choral responsibilities rest mainly on males, and much has been said and written about the significance of their music for outlining territory and attracting females. While scientific explanations make biologic sense and are fascinating to ponder, this human soul is content to be filled with a symphony whose ethereal notes float into the cosmos.
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