February makes me shiver


The temp was 0° at 6 am. 10° at 9 am. High of 22° for today. New snow 2 inches. Not so bad as poor buried-in-snow Boston, that’s for sure.

The North wind doth blow and we shall have snow.
What will the robin do then? Poor thing.

–a nursery rhyme that is running through my head lately. There’s a second verse, something about a robin hanging out in a barn, that I’ve never cared for. Why would a robin be in a barn, really?

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

—is another verse that comes to mind this month. The last line of Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind.” Many learned scholars have identified winter in this poem as life’s adversities and spring as various things—hope, love, poetry. This is all reasonable, of course. It’s the sort of thing that poets do. But I also tend to think the Necessity that nature imposes–Necessity, a Romantic term–was more immediate in the nineteenth century. An impoverished nineteenth-century English nobleman living in a drafty manor house heated with fireplaces may have been writing metaphorically, but was just as much vividly feeling and describing how bad winter really is, really, and hoping, really, for spring to come at last. That’s how I’m feeling just now.

And what about the robins. What are they doing, really?

I don’t have photos of robins, but I will as soon as spring comes. There’s a 37° theory about robins–that they come back when the temp gets up to 37°.

It’s true that robins do migrate. How else could they “come back”? Some migrate long distances, others more locally. Perhaps our robins of winter are not the same robins that we see in summer. Perhaps our summer robins are wintering a hundred miles or so south, while our winter robins have come down from their summer place a hundred miles or so north of us.

The migration depends on food. In winter, robins live on fruit and berries for the most part, so the flocks will go where fruit and berries are to be found.

In spring, robins become territorial and also switch to worms and insects. Mated robins tend to have their first brood quite early in the season. In the spring, I first see flocks of robins in open fields in the parks, obviously looking for worms and insects. Must be a crossover period–still in flocks but looking for worms. I need to remember to check the temp on the day of that first sighting.

Later in summer, I usually see a pair in my yard busily looking for worms, so they are territorial at that point. I’ve never seen robins eating fruit and berries, but I don’t doubt that they do. It may be that they are around all winter, eating fruit and berries, but I’m just not noticing them.

Fruit-and-berry-eating birds, like robins and other thrushes, are an excellent reason to plant native shrubs and trees. Dogwood, holly, elderberry, winterberry, blueberries, all the lovely native species. I have lots of thoughts about native species, but that’s for another post.


This is a photo of my holly tree, more like a bush, covered with snow this morning. Most of the berries are gone from it, so I assume the birds had a good feed last fall. I have to watch more carefully in future. You can also see a blueberry bush in the foreground. No question but that the birds love blueberries as much as I do. The competition is fierce when the berries are ripe.

There is one more saying about robins that puzzles me. Of course, we know that robins are the harbingers of spring–“harbinger” defined as a forerunner or precursor. In a New York Times op-ed in 2011, Warren Buffett, trying to convince investors to get back into the stock market, said “If you wait for the robins, you’ll miss the spring.” If you wait for the signs of a recovering market (robin), it will be too late to make a profit (spring). OK. But really. I’ve never known spring to arrive without first seeing robins in the open field looking for worms. It’s never happened, and I certainly hope it never does. Are robins on a different schedule in Omaha. Or, is the analogy faulty, really, because what may be true about the market isn’t true at all about robins being late. My head is spinning.


Daisy, my 3-year-old yellow lab, loves the snow. This photo of her does not show her at her most exuberant. Sometimes when she gets going in the snow, she runs in big circles and twirls in little circles–we call it her happy dance–until she is exhausted.

On December 21, the shortest day of the year, the sun came up here at 7:17 am. This morning, February 17, the sun came up at 6:48. A half-hour. And it was getting light by a little after 6.

The sun is shining now–no wind. It’s lovely out, really. No robins . . . but it’s only 22°.

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?


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