It was early May, peak warbler migration time in Missouri, and I was keeping my binoculars close to my desk. Whenever I heard a bird call out of the ordinary, I left the computer and was out the back door of my house in Jefferson City, scanning the canopy of trees in my yard.
Yellow-rumped warblers were feasting on small insects at the top of an elm tree, but there was also some elusive movement lower in the tree. Too big for a warbler. Was it a veery? A hermit thrush? Then I saw its bright russet breast, white eye ring and yellow bill.
“Just a robin,” I said out loud to no one. With those three words, I dismissed one of North America’s most successful birds, simply because it was so common. I immediately trained my binoculars on other movement in the trees, hoping to see something more unusual. But I saw the robin flick its tail, as if indignant, and fly to another branch to perch. It was just a robin, one of several at the moment, not only perching in my trees but hopping across my yard, and one of an estimated 320 million individuals living at any given time in North America.
From Pristine Forests to Parking Lot Islands
Like poison ivy, American robins can be found throughout Missouri; they live and nest in yards, woodlands and farms, but also parks in big cities and even strip mall parking lots.
Robins are the birds most all Missourians know by sight, the ones we absentmindedly watch out the window when we are talking on the phone: they do their run-bounce across lawns, then stop, cock their heads, scan for predators, yank a worm out of the ground, then run-bounce some more.
After a rain, we see them in puddles in parking lots as we wheel groceries to cars: there they are, splashing and flapping in temporary, asphalt birdbaths.
At dusk, when we are cleaning up after dinner and getting kids into bathtubs, robins often get overlooked, but they are out there, chasing each other around in our yards with erratic flight or singing as the day draws to a close.
Most all Missourians have heard robins as well, even if they don’t know which birds are producing the sound. Unless you are living in a high-rise in downtown Kansas City or St. Louis, you have no doubt awoken