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Column: Robins have special significance in Minnesota

An American robin nest will contain three to five eggs. Robins may raise one to three broods throughout the summer! Flickr photo by Courtney Celley/USFWS.1 / 2
Outdoors Columnist Blane Klemek2 / 2

My dear mother Darlene who just passed away a little over a week ago loved wild birds. We often talked about birds, feeding birds, seeing birds, listening to birds, and identifying birds.

Indeed, she loved talking about the first time she'd seen bluebirds as a little girl on the farm and she loved listening to my stories about anything having to do with wild birds.

Mom also loved the annual ritual of putting out her two hummingbird feeders in the springtime; and each season we compared notes about hummingbird arrival times. She, who lived 90 miles south of me in the little town of Eagle Bend, always saw her first hummingbird about a week before I did. I'd always provide her with the same comment, "My hummingbirds arrive around Mother's Day every year."

At a brief moment of silence during her funeral on the beautiful and warm sunny afternoon that the day became, I heard the full-throated and soothing song of a male American robin singing from a tree next to the church. I smiled while listening to the pleasant warbled phrases as I thought about Mom.

The American robin, belonging to the thrush family, is the largest of all the thrushes at around 10 inches long. One of the most ubiquitous birds in our backyards and woodlands, it's no wonder that the robin is often the first bird a child learns to identify. The males' brick-red breast, dark head, and bright yellow bill are traits that set this friendly and handsome bird apart from other birds.

One of the behaviors so common in the American robin is the manner in which they walk and feed. We often observe robins on our lawns searching for one of their favorite foods, earthworms. Typical of their style is to fly to the ground, remain still for a few seconds, then hop forward in several quick bounds and stop again.

Robins are one of the first birds in the morning to begin singing their pleasurable song. It's not uncommon to hear a male robin during the spring breeding season singing at 4 a.m. Beautifully warbled and varied phrases separated by short pauses, is the characteristic pattern, and one in which songs of other species of birds tend to resemble as well.

Aside from the other species of thrushes that robins are related to, other robin-like songs are sung by rose-breasted grosbeaks, red-eyed vireos, tanagers, and Baltimore orioles.

Sometimes the songs of these birds are mistakenly identified as belonging to the American robin. Bird books often describe a particular bird's song as robin-like. Such comparisons are testament to the commonness and familiarity of the robin.

While the diet of robins during the breeding and nesting season consists of primarily insects, worms, and other invertebrates, robins feed on a wide variety of food. Throughout much of the year, robins feed on mostly berries and other fruits and seeds. Sumac, grape, cedar, cranberry, mountain ash, raspberry, serviceberry, and nannyberry are just some of the many plant-foods robins eagerly seek out and consume.

For this reason, it is a great idea to plant fruit-bearing trees and shrubs that retain their fruits throughout the winter months for the eventual return of springtime robins. When insects are hard to find during late springs, fruits and other foods from plants are very important to migrating birds like robins. Planting such trees and shrubs such as hawthorn, crabapple, chokecherry, and others, are extremely beneficial to robins and other birds during unseasonable weather.

Spring is definitely in the air. Ducks and geese have trickled northward, robins and bluebirds have arrived, red-winged blackbirds and grackles, too, and soaring red-tailed hawks are out in the countryside hunting once again.

Darlene Klemek would be happy to know that her husband Lawrence will keep her bird feeders and bird bellies full. In the meantime, the American robin has arrived here in the Northland once again and will delight all of us with their beauty, song, and charm, as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.