Wild Side: Why migrate from the Banana Belt?
Carol and I traveled through slushy snow into River Falls on Christmas Day to Pam and Fizz Kizer's house on Roosevelt Street for another of their Christmas brunch gatherings.
Fizz cooked up some great French toast, Pam served us spiral cut ham, fruit and mimosa drinks. We enjoyed being with friends and good local music. Their cats were intently watching out the windows, mostly ignoring the guests.
The cats were watching birds in the backyard. Some of us adjourned into Fizz's woodworking shop to look out the picture window overlooking the Kinnickinnic River. The overcast day was dark. The river was flowing black, concealing the trout. Deer were browsing in the floodplain across the river.
Remarkably, after a major winter storm with half a foot of snow followed by rain, there were hundreds of robins roosted in trees along the river. Most robins in our area migrate south in October when their favorite earthworm prey migrate vertically toward China to spend the winter.
Robins are harbingers of spring, usually following the 37-degree isotherm northward. Male robins return to find worms in the newly thawed ground only to get snowed on one or two times before their mates arrive with the warmer weather.
On our way home on Christmas Day we encountered another flock of robins on the road to our house east of River Falls. They were hanging out along a south-facing hillside protected from the northeast wind. Had all those robins followed the warm front rain north in hopes of finding exposed ground? We hadn't seen robins around since late October.
There are flocks of 50 to 100 robins that have been spending the winter in our area for many years, mostly along river bottoms where they are sheltered from weather and have an abundance of berries to eat. Carol and I have seen flocks of robins in winter in Willow River State Park. After skiing fast down some steep hills through the oak woods we would suddenly be surrounded by robins in the river floodplain.
The Audubon Society has sponsored a Christmas bird count for 110 years. The Christmas bird count data from all over the country has revealed a northward trend in winter distribution for a number of bird species associated with the general warming of winter in North America over the last several decades.
If you were a robin and could stay warm enough in the banana belt during winter, eating enough honeysuckle berries to get drunk, why migrate?
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