February Observations

Robins & Such

American Robin

Like most gardeners, by February I am longing for early signs of spring. Fortunately, in north Texas, we are able to enjoy spring-like weather, and sometimes even summer-like weather, now and then throughout our winter months. While this is a blessing it can also be a curse for those of us that get adventurous and plant items that may not be able to survive an unexpected late frost. (Note: The average date of the last frost in north Texas is around March 15.)

On two consecutive sunny February mornings recently, I saw several flocks of robins in my neighborhood. While seeing a robin is often thought to be an early sign of spring, in actuality, these plump, red-breasted birds are present in north Texas year ’round. However, we may indeed see more of them around this time of year because those that migrated from Canada to the warmer climate of Texas have joined those that live permanently here. In addition, those that migrated further south into Mexico are stopping by Texas on their way back north to their preferred breeding area. (Apparently, the permanent resident-Texan robins are content to breed here!)

Robins are well-known for eating worms. They are the early bird in the adage, the early bird gets the worm. However, robins eat a variety of insects in addition to worms – as do most birds of the thrush family. Perhaps these eating habits are the reason we associate robins with impending spring. We are accustomed to seeing them search for worms & insects in the ground – worms and insects that are much more abundant as our soil begins to warm.

American Robin
American Robin

While it is true a robin’s diet is primarily made up of invertebrates, when the weather is cold and worms and insects are scarce, a robin will consume winter fruit and berries. Oftentimes, they travel in large flocks from one fruit-bearing tree to another. I have to admit, I was a little surprised to learn about this herbivorous aspect of a robin’s diet.

All along, I thought it was solely cedar waxwings that perched in our trees during the winter, consuming berries and tender buds. It wasn’t until I witnessed dozens of robins in our pear and elm trees this past week that I realized the waxwings had competitors. Most of the robins atop appeared full and satisfied with their winter vegetarian cuisine and stayed roosted. However, a few of them flew down and attempted to find an errant bug or two in the cold mulch.

American Elm Budding Out
American Elm Budding Out Against Drab February Day

As an aside, I read that having a flock of robins in your trees doesn’t mean they are only eating fruit and berries. They could be performing a bit of needed pest control on your behalf. Using their keen eyesight typically reserved for spying worms, robins are easily able to find hibernating insects in tree bark and rolled leaves.

While a robin’s diet is quite varied, they are rarely seen perched at bird feeders that are strictly filled with seed. If you’d like to attract them to a feeder you should purchase a fruit mix or add a little fruit of your own to the seed. And, in addition to planting berry-bearing shrubs, another sure way to attract robins to your yard is to install a bird bath. In my experience, robins are not shy about using a bird bath with their seed-loving cousins and, of course, fresh water is a year round requirement!

To sum up, I suppose the more accurate “spring is coming” sign for north Texans is: When you see robins transition from tree feeding to ground feeding you can reasonably expect the earth is warming and spring is approaching.

I wasn’t planning on focusing this post on robins, but as I write usually one subject comes to the forefront. I would like to conclude that while walking my dog this weekend I witnessed a couple of other signs of impending spring in my area. A bright yellow forsythia had begun to bloom and a single red flower was peeking through a heavily mulched ice plant. I also noticed the garlic chives had sprouted in my herb garden.

Forsythia Blooming in February in Texas
Forsythia
Garlic Chives
Early Garlic Chives

Although a bitter cold front is on its way to north Texas as I complete this post tonight, I’m still assured spring weather is indeed on its way. In the meantime, I’ll be keeping an eye on how many robins I begin to see . . . on the ground!

Until next time,

Cindy

Robin Seeking Insects in Mulch

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