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BirdWire, December 2, 2017: Winter Robins View this issue on a Mobile Device Find us on Instagram Follow us on Twitter Become a Facebook Fan Watch Us on YouTube! BirdWire on RSS
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Jingle Bell Rockin' Robins

By Kyle Carlsen
Contributor | Bird Watcher's Digest

Some folks think of robins as spring- and summer-only birds, but the truth is that American robins are surprisingly hardy as long as they have access to their winter food sources. They have been recorded in winter in every state except one and every province except one. When the weather turns cold and the snow starts to fly, robins move from lawns to fruit-bearing trees and shrubs. They will migrate only as far south as they are forced to by food shortages. If robins spend the winter in your part of the world, it probably means there's enough food around for the birds to survive the season. Here's a fun quiz on American robins. Let's see how well you know these popular birds!
Robins belong to which family of birds?
a) Sparrows
b) Thrushes
c) Flycatchers
d) Blackbirds

What is the average lifespan of an American robin?
a) Two years
b) Four years
c) Six years
d) Eight years

American robins have been recorded in winter in every state except which one?
a) Hawaii
b) Florida
c) Louisiana
d) Alaska

A typical robin clutch contains how many eggs?
a) Exactly two
b) Three to four
c) Six to eight
d) More than ten

True or false?
Male and female robins have identical plumage.

Which of these states does not claim the American robin as its official state bird?
a) Michigan
b) Wisconsin
c) New York
d) Connecticut

What do robins eat (besides earthworms)?
a) Insects
b) Snails
c) Berries
d) All of the above

True or false?
Robins gather in large foraging flocks.

True or false?
Robins often flick their tails.

Adapted from an article by New Hampshire Audubon
Seeing a snowy owl is a rare privilege. Snowy owls are magnificent birds, and attract considerable attention when they visit the Lower 48 in winter. Enthusiastic observers and photographers should understand and remember that these birds may be stressed by hunger and long-distance travel. It is important to resist the temptation to get too close for a clearer look or better photograph.
Snowy owls that travel so far from their nesting territories are often inexperienced birds that hatched the previous summer. They wander south when food is hard to find in their Arctic habitat. Their southward journey requires a lot of energy, as does finding prey in unfamiliar territory. Human disturbance can add significantly to their energy demands. The effects of disturbance can be obvious (causing a bird to "flush" or leave its perch) or invisible (making a bird too nervous to leave the safety of a high perch to pursue prey, or increasing its metabolism and stress). While a single incident may not be life threatening, the cumulative effect of repeated disturbances, which are likely to occur when an owl perches in highly visible, public locations, reduces the likelihood that an owl will survive to return north to breed.
Observers and photographers should practice ethical bird watching by keeping a respectful distance. In general, if a bird reacts to your presence, you are too close. When an owl starts staring at you, you're close enough, and it's time to back up. For owls on the ground, this is about 100 feet. Unless you have a 500mm or longer camera lens, please don't count on getting a close-up of the owl. If you're using a cell-phone camera, a close-up is impossible without disturbing the bird. Flushing the bird interferes with its roosting and foraging behavior, and deprives others of the opportunity to observe the owl.
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