Robins battle for spring supremacy

PHOTO: Ann Brokelman

Recently, on one of those lovely spring mornings we’ve been having, I looked out my front window to see the most bizarre bird behaviour between a pair of American Robins. When I first noticed them I went outside, grabbing my camera as always, and sat on my steps to get a better view.

At first their behaviour was curiously beautiful as I watched them fly together, almost synchronized, straight up in the air. But then I was shocked while I watched as the robins started to hit one another with their wings, beaks and feet!

“What the heck is going on?,” I wondered.

Over and over again they fought, as if in some strange avian version of the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship, my son tells me).

I channeled my inner Columbo to solve this puzzle, but other than observing that both combatants were male robins, distinguishable by their bright red breasts, I couldn’t pinpoint anything else out of the ordinary. While I wanted to assume it had to be mating related, I never once noticed a female robin in the area.

I called my friend Carol, told her what was going on, and found out that she’d never seen such behaviour either. To our continued confusion and compounded curiosity, the following day, while we walked the Rosetta McClain Gardens, we saw dozens of other robins acting in the same bizarre way.

I have been a bird watcher for some time now, but I have never seen this before (although I must admit that maybe I just never have noticed it). However, since buying my first birding camera, I have thought of myself as having a much greater awareness of the behaviour of birds and other wildlife.

PHOTO: Ann Brokelman

Whether it was coincidence or not I may never know, but barely a week later, after I’d finally managed to accept that I would likely never know the truth of my fighting feathery friends, a Wild Birds magazine arrived in the mail bearing an article about robins and their “combative” behaviour.  The magazine explained the actions I had observed: the fighting behaviour is usually a result of the robins establishing their territorial boundaries early in the spring, most commonly over birdbaths and food. It actually had nothing to do with mating and, interestingly enough, the male robins spend so much time fighting that they often forget about nesting entirely. Try looking outside your own residence and with a little patience and luck you might just see half a dozen robins re-enacting scenes from Rocky.

American Robins (Turdus Migratorius) are 23–28 centimetres (10–11 inches) long. You will see them in your front yard eating worms, grasshoppers, beetles and grubs. You might even see them feed their nestlings worms, as they are most active during the day.  When I see a Robin I know certainly that spring is in the air.  Am I the only one that remembers Harry Woods’ wonderful song WHEN THE RED, RED ROBIN COMES BOB, BOB, BOBBIN’ ALONG?

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