I did a double take when down by the river this week. Off in the distance I saw what looked like shore birds doing their little sprint across the shallows. The quick run then even faster halt, little splashes into the air. I moved in slowly not to startle the birds and the closer I got I realized, these waders were robins.
It is not odd seeing robins in a pool of water, but in 4°F? And this is no ordinary pool of water either. It is the Niagara River rapids area.
And they were in the icy waters looking for food. I never saw a robin in the Niagara River before, let alone in frigid winter weather. Drinking from icy streams is not unusual, but these birds were dining, drinking and bathing. Robins in winter, who knew? This post follows, Why Are Robins Still Here in Winter?, a question I posed earlier.
And it is COLD!
It was a small flock of maybe ten robins. I sat down in the snow for 20 minutes watching them and wondering how they braved the icy waters. They stayed in the water long after I stopped watching them too.
It does seem that bathing puts these birds at risk, but they are designed to do it safely. The feathers of a healthy bird shed most of the water, keeping it from penetrating into the insulating down.
Ever notice the water rolling off the back of a duck when it is paddling around in freezing water? It is the same for our songbirds who can shed and shake water from their plumage. Dirt interferes with the feather barbules that keeps water out, so birds will clean them often.
I thought this nearby spot above was more favorable and protected for the robins, but they chose a more open area in the flowing part of the river. I guess there was more opportunity for food.
Birds do look for open water when thirsty, will eat snow, and sometimes can catch snowflakes midair. See the leaping robin above?
Here it is before the leap, just wading.
Take a look at the photos and tell me if you would think to see robins here in winter?
Taking a bath no less…
For at least five minutes…
If they don’t keep feathers in fine working order, feathers lose insulating value. A clean bird is a warm bird so they say, so bathing even in these frigid temperatures is something they must do.
So who knew the Niagara River was so vital to a robin in winter?