Once again the robins sing,
A hint of snow still on the bough.
Treetops all around me ring …
With gratefulness, I hear them now.
American Robins singing at dawn (with distant Great Horned Owl). 5:45am, 7 April 2015, near Ithaca, New York. © Lang Elliott.
Each spring around the middle of March, the robins return to my home in upstate New York. A male invariably takes up residence in my backyard and proclaims his territory each day at first light. Most mornings, he sings from high in a nearby aspen tree, his silhouette clearly visible against the brightening sky. His sweet twilight song drifts-in through my bedroom window … a cheerful and soothing elixir that gently rouses me from sleep and draws me into the dawning day.
I have been listening to robins for nearly seventy years, yet I never tire of their music. They sang from tall trees in my yard when I was a child in Missouri. They sang in city parks in Maryland when I was a graduate student. During vacations, I encountered them in the mountains of California and Arizona. While on recording trips of recent years, I heard them in the northern forests of Quebec, Manitoba, and even Alaska. Truly, the robin is a quintessential North American bird, a species whose song is familiar and dear to nearly everyone who pays attention to the sounds of nature.
So let us take a moment to celebrate all robins and be grateful that they accompany us on our life journeys, that our natural surroundings continue to support healthy populations, and that our lives remain graced by their delightful and melodious songs.
NOTE: When singing in the twilight of dawn and dusk, a male often includes numerous soft, high-pitched phrases that sound like hisselly, or some variation thereof. At times, the singer may give a long series of such phrases, punctuated here and there by louder whistles. Some refer to this as “whisper song.” One can’t help but wonder what all the whispering is about, but its exact meaning in the life of the robin is not currently known. The following recording, which I made early this morning (April 7), demonstrates this interesting “whisper song” behavior:
American Robin Whisper Song, with lots of hisselly phrases. 6am, 7 April 2015, near Ithaca, New York. © Lang Elliott.
I listened to your recording of the robin’s song – the first time ever I have heard a robin sing. We have robins in New Zealand and they have been saved from extinction by the hard work of many dedicated people. A film has been made about the saving of the robin. I have never seen a robin as they are mostly in the South Island and I live in the North.
The lovely Robins visit my Secret Garden every day.
Thank you for posting the beautiful Robin’s “Whisper Song” 🙂
How nice … a Secret Garden! I have so many of them, scattered about the countryside around my hometown.
Hi Lang. Is there anything that lifts the heart more than the sound of a robin in the springtime? They are so enthusiastic and full of hope!
I heard once that every robin has his/her(?) own vocabulary and repertoire of sounds, and can imitate the song of another robin if they want to get his attention. It was part of a pro gram reflecting on and demonstrating the evolution of language on planet earth. Have you ever heard of that?
Hmmm … no, I’m not familiar with that study but would love to read about it. I have noticed that different males sing subtly different songs, but I am unaware that anyone has quantified the differences between neighbors and whether or not they can “song match” when appropriate. Other birds such as cardinals and tufted titmice song match like crazy.
In Connecticut, where I grew up, the sight of a robin was cause for hope … spring was on its way, even if it might not arrive for a month or two. Now, in the Midwest, just last week I looked out my front door and saw my first robin this year. I watched him robin land, pluck a worm out of the soil, and fly away, I imagine to feed the family. Very moving!
Most of us in the states grew up listening to robin songs, even if we never actually thought about it. And for this reason, I think the sound automatically evokes a feeling of security and memories of the carefree times of youth.
Some of my students have been asking me about the bird that sings outside their dorm rooms during the night while they are up way too late doing their assignments. I encourage them to use their phones to get photos or recordings of birds and bring them to our music theory classes. Sure enough – Robins. Urban campuses have lights all night, which seems to encourage Robin song in the middle of the night as well as shortly before the first hint of dawn.
That’s a great observation Lisa. Here in Ithaca, they also sing at all hours of the night, especially on our heavily developed “strip” to the south of town, which is well lit by bright street lights. I’d think that would mess up their breeding behavior somewhat, possibly causing males to suffer from avian sleep deprivation (a possible thesis topic for a grad student somewhere).
Beautiful new website! Been a long time coming. I’m looking forward to more & more.
thanks Bob … and you’ll be contributing as well, I’m sure.
THANKS for making my day! I live in a Florida retirement community overlooking spectacular oak trees, but no birds, only squirrels. As a former Connecticut Yankee I miss robins, but now savor “your” birdsong.
And thank you Jean, for enjoying the robinsong!
Ironic that I read this article just after reading an article about declining bee colonies and neonicotinoid pesticides. It says that other countries have already banned these products, but our government has not yet seen it to do so. I need to listen to the robin again to help focus in on positive things.
What a sad story … to allow such pesticides to be used in the name of producing more foods, yet they could be destroying pollinators.
Hello Lang, I live in Sussex, a county in the south of England. Our UK robins are a different colour, a pale brown with a chest that’s a bright orangey/red. Their song is similar, chirruping and bright. When I go to my allotment ( a small piece of land, where I grow fruit and vegetables), a robin comes to join me while I’m digging, sitting very close and swooping like a flash to grab any worms or other insects I turn over. If he isn’t there, I whistle a chirrup a couple of times and he turns up, cheeky and cheerful to brighten my day. I have just bought a phone with a camera on it. When I learn to use it, I’ll send you a picture. Don’t hold your breath , I don’t do technology, so it may be a while. Thank you for sharing your robin’s song.
Janet … yes, yours is the “Real” robin, ours just a look-alike. But ours is BIGGER, ha, ha, ha! Songwise, I guess they’re somewhat equivalent, though ours more musical I think.
Yes, I’d love to see a pic. You know, I’ve never seen “The Real Robin” for real, only in the picture books.