American Ornithology: Volume 1.

ROBIN. (Turdus Migratorius.)

Linn. Syst. p. 292, 6.
Turdus Canadensis, Briss. p. 225, 9.
La Litorne de Canada, Buff. iii. p. 307.
Grive de Canada, Pl. enl. 556, 1.
Fieldfare of Carolina, Cat. Car. i. 29.
Red-breasted Thrush, Arct. Zool. ii. No. 196.
Lath. Syn. ii. p. 26.
Bartram, p. 290.
Peale's Museum, No. 5278.

Turdus migratorius, Bonap. Symp. p. 75.
Merula migratoria, North. Zool. p. 177.

This well-known bird, being familiar to almost everybody, will require but a short description. It measures nine inches and a half in length; the bill is strong, an inch long, and of a full yellow, though sometimes black or dusky near the tipof the upper mandible; the head, back of the neck, and tail, is black; the back and rump, an ash colour; the wings are black, edged with light ash; the inner tips of the two exterior tail-feathers are white; three small spots of white border the eye; the throat and upper part of the breast is black, the former streaked with white; the whole of the rest of the breast, down as far as the thighs, is of a dark orange; belly and vent, white, slightly waved with dusky ash; legs, dark brown; claws, black and strong. The colours of the female are more of the light ash, less deepened with black; and the orange on the breast is much paler, and more broadly skirted with white. The name of this bird bespeaks him a bird of passage, as are all the different species of thrushes we have; but the one we are now describing being more unsettled, and continually roving about from one region to another, during fall and winter, seems particularly entitled to the appellation. Scarce a winter passes but innumerable thousands of them are seen in the lower parts of the whole Atlantic States, from New Hampshire to Carolina, particularly in the neighbourhood of our towns; and, from the circumstance of their leaving, during that season, the country to the northwest of the great range of the Alleghany, from Maryland northward, it would appear that they not only migrate from north to south, but from west to east, to avoid the deep snows that generally prevail on these high regions for at least four months in the year.

The robin builds a large nest, often on an apple tree, plasters it in the inside with mud, and lines it with hay or fine grass. The female lays five eggs of a beautiful sea-green. Their principal food is berries, worms, and caterpillars. Of the first, he prefers those of the sour gum (Nyssa sylvatica). So fond are they of gum-berries, that, wherever there is one of these trees covered with fruit, and flocks of robins in the neighbourhood, the sportsman need only take his stand near it, load, take aim, and fire; one flock succeeding another, with little interruption, almost the whole day: by this method, prodigious slaughter has been made among them with little fatigue.

[7] In the beautifully wrought-out arrangement of the Merulidæ, by Swainson, in the second volume of the “Northern Zoology”, that family will form the second among the Dentirostres or the subtypical group; including, for its five principal divisions, the families Merulinæ, Myotherinæ, Brachypodinæ, Oriolinæ, and Crateropodinæ; among these, however, two, or at most three, only come within the range of the northern continent of America—the first and third. The first, Merulinæ, or more properly the typical form, will now claim our attention.

In all the members taken collectively, and in adaptation to their general habits, they show considerable perfection, though their form as a part of the Dentirostres does not come up to the typical perfections of that group. The parts are adapted for extensive locomotion, either in walking or perching, and in flight; many perform very considerable migrations, and long and rapid flights are often taken in those counties even where the climate does not seem to render this necessary. They are nearly omnivorous. A great part of their sustenance is sought for upon the ground, particularly during that season when insects are not indispensable for the welfare of their broods; and their feet and tarsi are admirably formed for walking and inspecting the various places where their food is then chiefly to be found. At other times they live principally upon fruits and some vegetables, with the larvae of insects, and the abundant supply of large and succulent caterpillars; but during winter, the harder grains, and more fleshy insects common to low meadows and moist woods, such as the various snails, flies, and worms, are nearly their only food; for after the first month of the inclement season has passed, most of the winter wild fruits and berries have either fallen from their stocks, or have been already consumed by these and many other tribes that subsist upon them. Very few are quite solitary: during the breeding season they all separate, but after the broods have been raised, they congregate either in very large flocks or in groups of five or six. Those of smaller numbers generally either become more domestic, and approach dwellings and cultivated districts on the approach of winter, or retire entirely to the depths of solitary forests. Those that congregate in large flocks are always remarkably shy, suffer persons to approach with difficulty, and have a sentinel or watch on the look out, to warn them of danger. Their cry is harsh and sharp, or shrill and. monotonous, except during the season of incubation, when they all produce strains of more interest. Some possess great melody, and in others the notes are remarkably pensive and melancholy. On this account they are universal favourites; and the early song of the mavis is watched for, by those residing much in the country, as the harbinger of a new season and brighter days. The true thrushes are all inhabitants of woods, and. only from the necessity of procuring food resort to the open countries. In distribution, they range over the world, and the proportion seems pretty equal; India and Southern Europe may, perhaps, have the most extensive list, and North America will rank in the least proportion. They are often used as articles of food, and the immense havoc made among the Northern robins of our author will show the estimation in whicli they are held. as luxuries for the table; in Spain and Italy, great numbers are taken for the same purpose, with nets and various kinds of snares; with the severity of the season, however, and the difference of food, the flesh acquires a bitter flavour, which renders them unfit for culinary purposes, and. affords a temporary respite from their merciless persecutions.

The title Merula, which Mr Swainson and several of our modern ornithologists have adopted, was used by Ray only as a subgenus among his “Turdinum genus”, and contained that division to which the black-bird and ringousel would belong; Turdus being confined to those with spotted breasts. I do not consider the very trifling difference in form between the plain and spotted species to be of sufficient importance, and prefer retaining the generic name of Turdus, as one well known and long accepted.

Robin seems to be applied in America generally to several of the thrushes, some expletive going before to designate the species by its habits, as wood robin, swamp robin, ground robin, &c. Our present species is THE ROBIN; and, as the preceding was a favourite on account of its song, this is no less so from the unassuming and dependent familiarity of its manners: it was most probably this, joined with the colour of the breast, which first suggested the name of our own homely bird to the earlier British settlers, and. along with it part of the respect with which its namesake is treated. in this country.

An African species, Turdus olivaceus (le Griveron, Vieill.) is nearly allied in the distribution of the markings. I have another, I believe, from South America, which approaches both nearly.—Ed. [return]