Stillwater News Press

March 10, 2014

The Outdoor Almanac: Passing flocks

By Dwayne Elmore
Stillwater News Press

STILLWATER, Okla. — aFor the past few days you may have noticed great flocks of American robins around Stillwater.  There have been so many around my home that each morning a few collide with a window — which is making the neighborhood sharp-shinned hawk very happy and driving my bird dog crazy.

Most people do not realize this common yard bird is actually a thrush, closely related to the Eastern bluebird and the wood thrush. While the American robin is a year-round resident of Oklahoma, it is during winter that it is most abundant here.

Individual flocks can number in the thousands. The total continental population is estimated to be more than 300 million. That makes the American robin one of the most abundant birds in North America.

This abundance led it to be a popular bird for market hunting prior to the establishment of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1916, which provided protection to most species of birds. Many millions were shot and consumed in the eastern U.S. during the winter months in the late 1800s when they congregated and made harvest easy.

During late winter, robins feed on a variety of foods. Eastern redcedar berries (technically they are cones rather than berries) make up a large portion of their diet in Oklahoma, as this plant is very plentiful. Flocks of wintering robins are nomads, here today and gone tomorrow.

Most of the robins in our area will be leaving in the next few days as they start migrating to their breeding areas as far north as the Arctic Circle. A few will stay, gradually establishing territories in neighborhood lawns. Over the next weeks, notice how numbers of robins dwindle and the remainder begin calling from territories.

Its melodic call will likely be one of the first sounds heard on warm spring mornings and is a pleasant start to the day.

Dwayne Elmore is Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension wildlife specialist in the department of natural resource ecology and management.