A robin experiment

In the post American robin, just a few days ago, I wrote about a big old robin near the feeders, and also about a flock of robins in a nearby park, eating little dried-up fruits from 2 small crabapple trees. Perhaps these tangy treats–well, I didn’t taste them, but crabapples are usually tangy–perhaps they have just now become palatable for returning robins.

I wrote in an earlier post, February makes me shiver, that I had never seen robins eating fruits and berries. Well, now I have. Amazing what I see when I pay attention.


There’s a small winterberry shrub near the feeders, a female winterberry called Sparkleberry. There’s also a male winterberry nearby, since it takes both for the female to bear fruit. The Sparkleberry winterberry had huge red berries on it last fall, which the birds studiously ignored. I thought perhaps the berries were too large. But now, they are black and withered and barely hanging from the little bush. And the big old male robin is doing his best to hang on those little branches and eat those berries. He’s hungry.

I picked some of the winterberry berries and dropped them on the ground around the shrub. He ate them shortly after. Since there aren’t many winterberries left, I decided to bring the old robin some of the crabapple fruits from the park that the other robins were eating.


The next time Daisy and I went for a walk, I took a bag along and raked some of the little, withered crabapple fruits into it. Returning home, I dumped them under the winterberry shrub.

It took the old robin a day to decide maybe he would try one–at least so far as I observed. But he’s been eating them now, and I’ve been bringing a few more home each day. Makes me happy.

So many things we don’t know about bird behavior. It’s nice to have one experiment seem as though it’s working out.


Now I’m daydreaming about planting a crabapple tree, a small one. Douglas W. Tallamy, in Bringing Nature Home, counts 311 lepidoptera species supported by crabapple trees. Malus angustifolia is native to the east. Interestingly, Tallamy states that crabapples are one case where the Asian species are so similar to the native crabapples that native insects seem not to tell the difference. That’s good, but I’ll still look for a native species first.

The Native Plant Society of New Jersey lists Malus coronaria, or sweet crab apple, and M. ioensis, or prairie crab apple, as natives to the county, so that’s a good place to start. Get out my pad and pencil. In Wild Fruits, Thoreau writes about finding M. coronaria on a trip to Michigan. He had read about them but had never seen, smelled, nor touched one before this trip. It would be fun to have a Thoreau crabapple.

I’m not happy with the Sparkleberry winterberry bush, which I bought 3 years ago. The tag it came with says Ilex verticillata, which both Tallamy and the Native Plant Society list as a native species, common winterberry. Good so far. However, the American Horticultural Society, in A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants, lists Sparkleberry as I. serrata x. I. verticillata. Are you ready for this. l. serrata is a Japanese winterberry. I honestly would never have researched that except that the Sparkleberry doesn’t seem like a native. It seems exotic to me. Maybe I’m developing instincts for native species, but I doubt it. This is an example of faulty labeling on nursery plants.

Much more about native species in other posts.

For now, I hope the old robin is sheltered from the 6″ of snow that fell on the first day of spring. Can you believe. I hope by this time next week the snow will be gone, and robins will be finding some worms to eat.

3 Comments on “A robin experiment

    • I will definitely check out Golden Raindrops crabapples since I would like to have a crabapple tree for the robins, and for me too. Thanks for the tip.

  1. Pingback: Fruit-eating birds: American robins, northern mockingbirds, and gray catbirds – daysingarden

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