Robins adapt to March’s variable weather

PHOTOS BY GARRY BRANDENBURG — The American Robin (Turdus migratorius) takes our recent variable weather days in stride. It is just another day even if they have to put up with a bit of snow. The birds must know that any adverse weather is likely to be short lived. Just wait, be patient, and the next day will be more favorable for food searches. Robins are one of the most common and easily recognizable small birds to be observed hopping around lawns and grassy areas. Its brownish-gray back and orange chest make identification an easy task. For today's images, I selected one view of a robin sitting in snowy bush branches, all puffed up to hold in warm air. And the other images illustrate a robin preening and adjusting its feathers after a long soaking bird bath in the water pan. It shook its body like a wet dog to disperse most of the water. Then it used its bill to swipe and clean itself, even to the tip of all of its wing feathers.

Spring: Our eyes tell us that robins are back in full force. This small bird seems to be relentless in its pursuit of finding little bugs, insect larvae or earthworms as they hop across grassy areas and lawns.

With a tilting of its head, it listens for the intricate sounds of critters in the thatch of lawns and fields. Did you know that a few robins stay in their breeding territory all winter? Yes indeed, not many, but a few will be around in cold, snowy environments if we humans are persistent enough to go looking for them.

And when the weather is nasty, as March days can be, robins adjust, wait it out, and know that tomorrow will be different. March is a time when robins from southerly wintering grounds come north and we see a notable increase in this species on the landscape. Robin returns are a clock-like notation of spring season coming soon.

Soon enough robins will be selecting nest locations. A few twigs and lots of grasses make an accumulation all cemented together with a bit of soft earth (mud) that can be molded into a cup shape of just the right size for an adult bird to lay eggs and incubate that clutch.

On average, robins will have three successful nesting attempts in one year. Another fact is that only 40 percent of the nesting activities will result in success, and by November, only 25 percent of all the young robins hatched will be part of the migration southward as a new winter season approaches. If any young robins make it through all the gauntlets of survival hurdles by late fall, there is a very good chance they will be a-okay for living a full life of 10 to 12 years.

Spring will bring new buds to trees, and in due time fruits and berries on bushes will help increase the diet offerings that robins seek. Robins will eat invertebrates, large numbers of earthworms exposed after rain events.

They have also been documented to eat shrews, those small mouse-like mammals that are active all winter. Small snakes are on the menu and aquatic insects whenever the habitat produces them.

Fruits are a big thing like those from chokecherries, hawthorn, dogwood, sumac and juniper. If any of these fruits have bugs inside, all the better to round out the protein content.

The global population of robins is estimated to be over 300 million. Habitats range from Mexico to America and southern Canada.


This past week’s March weather has been a little bit of everything and anything. If you like snow, you got it. Icy pellets, or hail, you got it.

How about rain? Yes, it was welcome. Lots of wind, got that also. Warm temps one day and freezing days the next, you got it. Cloudy overcast gray days, yup, and sunny cloudless days, yes to this happening.

What else can we say about March except it is going to end very soon? Most of us humans will be glad that March 2024 is history, gone but not forgotten.

There may be no guarantee that early April weather will be to our liking. However, the promise of April bringing warming temperatures, more rain showers, longer day lengths, and more species of migratory birds is a promise Mother Nature keeps year after year. Our human task is to adapt, enjoy, and make the most of our outdoor excursions that we fit into our schedules. April is a time to seek out woodland wildflowers. Hunters who are willing to sit and wait by a big tree trunk all dressed in full camouflage as tom turkeys roam woodland sites is another exciting adventure. Lake shoreline waters will warm first before deeper waters, and fish will seek out foods as these finny creatures shake off winter’s cold and adjust to their own timetables of reproduction for a new year.

We welcome April. Every habitat type in earth’s northern hemisphere is responding to increasing day lengths. April 1 for us folks at 42.41 degrees north latitude will see 12 hours and 43 minutes of daylight.

By the end of April, the daytime will increase to 14 hours. The April 1 sunrise will be at 6:53 a.m., and sunset happens at 7:35 p.m. On the 30th, sunrise will happen at 6:07 a.m., and the sun will sink below the horizon at 8:08 p.m.


Eagles say spring is here. I checked the raptor resource web site often to view bald eagle activities at the Decorah nest.

The magic of a remote camera allows folks all over the world to watch the intimate lives of an adult pair of eagles. This last week, D-17 and D-18 hatched at that nest. Seventeen and eighteen, the brood from 2024, refers to the number of successful hatches from former years. That is good news for this experienced pair of eagles. Soon we will see the steady progression of eaglet growth as the parents will be kept busy bringing food to the new family.

Little downy eaglets now will soon become a bit more rambunctious juveniles later as they compete for morsels of fish, mice, gophers, small birds, or perhaps a squirrel or rabbit tidbits brought to the nest side by the parent birds. The daily progress of eaglet growth will be fun to witness.

Keeping track of eaglets from last year, or other prior years, is another task the raptor resource center likes to do. By monitoring small tracking GPS radio signal equipment, researchers learn where those eagles travel to, how long they stay, and where they return or disperse to new territories.

It is fun to learn more about eagles. Our own local eagle nests, about 10 to 12 of them in Marshall County, are busy with the same chores as their relatives at Decorah.


There is a long time organization dedicated to birds of all species. It is called the Iowa Ornithologists Union. A local member, Mark Proescholdt from Liscomb, will present a program about the IOU on April 10 from 11:30 to 12:30 (lunch hour) at the Grimes Farm and Conservation Center.

It is a free program, so come to the nature center to learn more about the IOU organization. IOU was founded in 1923, only 101 years ago, to study and enjoy all species of birds. Their records of avian happenings, trends and emerging areas of interest is a testament to long term science based fact findings.

Proescholdt has been a member for over 40 years, an inherited trait from his family who always enjoyed the outdoors, and especially birds. I’ll see you there.


Here is another outdoor related endeavor, that will be an indoor event. The Tama County Conservation Board has a long tradition of hosting a Fun Night Fundraiser.

For 2024, it will be held on Saturday, April 13 from 5 to 8:30 p.m. at their nature center at Otter Creek Lake Park. There will be games, trivia, silent auction and live animal encounters. A gun raffle for a Pointer 12 gauge over/under shotgun will be offered at $10 per ticket. Money from this event will be used toward projects and improvements at Otter Creek Lake Park.

Tickets can be purchased in person at the Otter Creek Lake Park office, or online at tama-county-conservation.square.site. You may also contact them at tccb@tamacounty.org. Adult tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door. Young people age 13 or less have $15 advance tickets or at the door cost of $20.

Doors open at 5 p.m. Supper will be served at 6 p.m. The gun raffle will be held later that evening. Contact Raina Genaw, naturalist, at 641-484-2231 for details.


Garry Brandenburg is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. He is a graduate of Iowa State University with a BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology.

Contact him at:

P.O. Box 96

Albion, IA 50005


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