Friday, 9 May 2014


The Origin of the Robin

After a long drawn out winter, spring is finally making a comeback here. Tender new shoots are poking their heads hither and thither through the brown debris as if just awakening. Rain showers abound, worms are crawling their way through the depths of the soil providing nourishment to robins. 

Robins are birds with brown backs and a reddish-orange breast which varies in colour from a rich red maroon to peachy orange. You often see those tugging earthworms out of the ground, which is a sure sign of spring.

 The robin’s head varies from jet black to gray, with white eye arcs. The throat is white with black streaks and the belly and under tail coverts are white as well. The bill is mainly yellow with a variable dark tip, the dusky area becoming more extensive in winter, and the legs and feet are brown.

We all notice them because of their distinct appearance and cheery songs. The male robin, as with many thrushes, has a complex and almost continuous song. Its song is commonly described as a cheerily carol, made up of discrete units, often repeated, and spliced together into a string with brief pauses in between. The song varies regionally, and its style varies by time of day. The robin is often among the first songbirds singing as dawn breaks and the last as the evening sun sets. It usually sings from a high perch in a tree. In addition to its song, the robin has a number of calls used for communicating specific information such as when a ground predator approaches, and when a nest or the robin is being directly threatened.

The American robin is a migratory songbird of the thrush family. It is named after the European robin because of its reddish-orange breast, though the two species are not closely related, with the European robin belonging to the flycatcher family. According to some sources, the American robin ranks behind only the red-winged blackbird (and just ahead of the introduced European starling) as the most abundant land bird in North America. Robins breeds throughout most of North America from Alaska and Canada southward to northern Florida and Mexico. While robins occasionally overwinter in the northern part of the United States and southern Canada, most migrate to Florida and the Gulf Coast or to central Mexico, as well as the Pacific Coast. 

The lone robin is active all through the day and assembles in large flocks at night. Its diet consists of invertebrates such as beetle grubs, earthworms, and caterpillars, fruits and berries. It is one of the earliest bird species to lay eggs, beginning to breed shortly after returning to its summer range. 

A new nest is built for each brood, and in northern areas the first clutch is usually placed in an evergreen tree or shrub while later broods are placed in deciduous trees. The nest is most commonly located above the ground in a dense bush or in a fork between two tree branches and is built by the female alone. The outer foundation consists of long coarse grass, twigs, paper, and feathers. This is lined with smeared mud and cushioned with fine grass or other soft materials. In urban areas the robin sometimes constructs nests under eaves or awnings on human homes when such locations provide adequate shelter. Robins are not cavity nesters, and so will generally not use a bird house, but will take advantage of artificial nesting platforms that have been provided. Robin's egg blue is a color named after the bird's eggs. 

A clutch consists of three to five light blue eggs, and is incubated by the female alone. The eggs hatch after 14 days, and the chicks leave the nest a further two weeks later. The newly hatched chicks are naked and have their eyes closed for the first few days. While they are still young, the mother broods them continuously and are fed are fed worms, insects, and berries. When they are older, the mother will brood them only at night or during bad weather. Waste accumulation does not occur in the nest because adults collect and take it away. All chicks in the brood leave the nest within two days of each other. Even after leaving the nest, the juveniles will follow their parents around and beg food from them. Juveniles become capable of sustained flight two weeks after fledgling. 

The robin usually uses auditory, visual and olfactory means to seek prey, but vision is the predominant mode of prey detection. It also has the ability to hunt by hearing. It typically will take several short hops and then cock its head left, right or forward as a means to detect movement of its prey.

The Robins can be preyed upon by hawks, cats and large snakes. 

The American robin is a known carrier for West Nile virus. While crows and jays are often the first noticed deaths in an area with West Nile virus, the American robin is suspected to be a key host, and holds a larger responsibility for the transmission of the virus to humans. This is because, while crows and jays die quickly from the virus, the American robin survives the virus longer, hence spreading it to more mosquitoes which then transmit the virus to humans and other species. 

The robin has a prominent place in Native American mythology. The story of how the robin got its red breast by fanning the dying flames of a campfire to save a Native American man and a boy is similar to those that surround the European robin. 

The Tlingit people of Northwestern North America held it to be a culture-hero created by Raven to please the people with its song. One of the Houses of the Raven Tribe from the Nisga'a Nation holds the robin as a House Crest. 

Here’s one of the North American legends: 

The Origin of the Robin

From: The Indian Fairy Book , The Original Legends

Author: Cornelius Mathews

An old man had an only son, named Iadilla, who had come to that age which is thought to be most proper to make the long and final fast which is to secure through life a guardian genius or spirit. The father was ambitious that his son should surpass all others in whatever was deemed wisest and greatest among his people. To accomplish his wish, he thought it necessary that the young Iadilla should fast a much longer time than any of those renowned for their power or wisdom, whose fame he coveted.

He therefore directed his son to prepare with great ceremony for the important event. After he had been several times in the sweating-lodge and bath, which were to prepare and purify him for communion with his good spirit, he ordered him to lie down upon a clean mat in a little lodge expressly provided for him. He enjoined upon him at the same time to endure his fast like a man, and promised that at the expiration of twelve days he should receive food and the blessing of his father.

The lad carefully observed the command, and lay with his face covered, calmly awaiting the approach of the spirit which was to decide his good or evil fortune for all the days of his life.

Every morning his father came to the door of the little lodge and encouraged him to persevere, dwelling at length on the vast honor and renown that must ever attend him, should he accomplish the full term of trial allotted to him. 

To these glowing words of promise and glory the boy never replied, but he lay without the least sign of discontent or murmuring until the ninth day, when he addressed his father as follows:

"My father, my dreams forbode evil. May I break my fast now, and at a more favorable time make a new fast?" 

The father answered:

"My son, you know not what you ask. If you get up now, all your glory will depart. Wait patiently a little longer. You have but three days more, and your term will be completed. You know it is for your own good, and I encourage you to persevere. Shall not your aged father live to see you a star among the chieftains and the beloved of battle?"

The son assented; and covering himself more closely, that he might shut out the light which prompted him to complain, he lay till the eleventh day, when he repeated his request. 

The father addressed Iadilla as he had the day before, and promised that he would himself prepare his first meal, and bring it to him by the dawn of the morning.

The son moaned, and the father added:

"Will you bring shame upon your father when his sun is falling in the west?"

"I will not shame you, my father," replied Iadilla; and he lay so still and motionless that you could only know that he was living by the gentle heaving of his breast.

At the spring of day, the next morning, the father, delighted at having gained his end, prepared a repast for his son, and hastened to set it before him. On coming to the door of the little lodge, he was surprised to hear his son talking to himself. He stooped his ear to listen, and, looking through a small opening, he was yet more astonished when he beheld his son painted with vermilion over all his breast, and in the act of finishing his work by laying on the paint as far back on his shoulders as he could reach with his hands, saying at the same time, to himself: 

"My father has destroyed my fortune as a man. He would not listen to my requests. He has urged me beyond my tender strength. He will be the loser. I shall be forever happy in my new state, for I have been obedient to my parent. He alone will be the sufferer, for my guardian spirit is a just one. Though not propitious to me in the manner I desired, he has shown me pity in another way—he has given me another shape; and now I must go." 

At this moment the old man broke in, exclaiming:

"My son! my son! I pray you leave me not!"

But the young man, with the quickness of a bird, had flown to the top of the lodge and perched himself on the highest pole, having been changed into a beautiful robin red-breast. He looked down upon his father with pity beaming in his eyes, and addressed him as follows:

"Regret not, my father, the change you behold. I shall be happier in my present state than I could have been as a man. I shall always be the friend of men, and keep near their dwellings. I shall ever be happy and contented; and although I could not gratify your wishes as a warrior, it will be my daily aim to make you amends for it as a harbinger of peace and joy. I will cheer you by my songs, and strive to inspire in others the joy and lightsomeness of heart I feel in my present state. This will be some compensation to you for the loss of glory you expected. I am now free from the cares and pains of human life. My food is spontaneously furnished by the mountains and fields, and my pathway of life is in the bright air." 

Then stretching himself on his toes, as if delighted with the gift of wings, Iadilla caroled one of his sweetest songs, and flew away into a neighboring wood. 

The End.

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