Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
For a lot of folks, the appearance of the year’s first robin is an exciting event — a sure and welcome sign of spring. Or is it? For a growing number of North Iowans, catching a glimpse of the year’s first robin has already been checked off the 2016 Outdoor Bucket List; and I think it’s safe to say that spring is still a long way off.
From Okoboji to Elkader, robins suddenly began appearing in backyards and woodlots across the state during the last half of January. The unlikely visitors weren’t necessarily lone, off course vagrants either. In many cases, the robins were reported arriving in flocks numbering anywhere from a dozen, to 20, 30, or even more birds.
Along with widespread reports of robin sightings from local bird enthusiasts came the universal question, “Why are they here?” The answer is that no one can say. Although January weather has offered ample snow cover and occasional double digit below zero wind chills, overall winter temperatures have remained tolerable, although certainly not warm enough that anyone would expect to look out their kitchen window and see a flock of robins hopping through the snow drifts. What is certain is that the sightings are highly unusual for Iowa’s northernmost counties and that robins are definitely pushing the envelope by choosing to venture this far north this early in the year. Cold tolerant species like chickadees and blue jays are well adapted to surviving winter in the north. Robins are not. Being here now puts flocks at increased risk and could prove to be a fatal error.