By Derick Dallas
A lot of people think when they see an American Robin that this is one of the first signs of springs coming. This is incorrect. Most Robins winter in Texas and Florida. Although some Robins will stick around. It seems like the cutoff point is 36 degrees or lack of food. Fruit is the robin's winter main food source. If there is plentiful fruit in an area they will stay around. As the ground thaws in the spring, they switch to earthworms and insects. While the robins may arrive when temperatures reach 37+ degrees, this is because their food becomes available not because the robins themselves need warm temperatures.
For those of us that do feed our feathered friends a common sight in winter is the Northern Cardinal. Nothing like looking in your back yard with a fresh covering of snow and seeing all the red bodies perched in the trees. Cardinals do not migrate. They also eat mainly seeds and fruit, supplementing these with insects when feeding their fledglings. Cardinals are also opportunists and will frequent areas that provide a steady source of food i.e. bird feeders.
An elusive visitor can be the Rose Breasted Grosbeak. Spotting one is a joy to see. Their stark colorings of red, black, and white makes for a beautiful distinctive sight. If you are lucky enough to see this fella (the male is the pretty one) it is usually as he is passing through. They winter in Northern and South-Central America, migrate through the Mid-Atlantic states, and breed in the Northern states up into Canada.
Those of you that have hummingbird feeders will spy the common Ruby-throated Hummingbird. These hyperactive wonders migrate to Central America as far south as Panama in the early fall, crossing 500 miles over the Gulf of Mexico without stopping! Most articles will advise you to bring in your feeders for them in early October. This is to prevent them from lingering due to an abundance of nectar. This can cause them to start their migration late and get caught in an early winter storm.
Our own Baltimore Oriole arrives in the Mid-Atlantic area right around opening day. Go figure! April to late May, flocks arrive in eastern and central North America to breed from Louisiana through central Canada. They start to leave as early as July for wintering grounds in Florida, the Caribbean, Central America, and the northern South America. Orioles eat insects, fruit, and nectar. Their diet varies by season: in summer, while breeding and feeding their young, much of the diet consists of insects, which have proteins needed for growth. In spring and fall, nectar and ripe fruits give them the sugary foods that are readily converted into fat, which supplies energy for migration.
At night birds sleep perched high in trees, typically close to the trunk of the tree. They may find a cavity or niche to roost in. The trunk holds heat from the daytime to provide better shelter, and the birds will be alerted to any vibrations or noises predators make if they climb the tree looking for prey.
During storms we seek shelter inside. Many birds will seek shelter on the lee sides of trees or deep inside thick hedges. This can protect them from wind speeds if the birds stay put. These areas also can help keep birds dry, even in a driving rainstorm. Still sometimes birds will be caught by surprise in a quickly moving storm. They can be found roosting under decks, atop window sills under a roof overhang, and even behind an exit sign on the interstate and beltway.