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How the Bird Gets the Worm

Posted April 22, 2009 12:01 AM by SavvyExacta

A sign of spring in the Northeastern United States is the return of the robin. Most of us know that "the early bird gets the worm", but did you know that when a robin cocks his head and points one beady eye toward the ground, he's looking for worms?

Robin 101

Robins are found throughout the world and are made up of 15 species. All robins are part of the thrush family, which also includes blackbirds. The American robin can be found throughout North America and is the state bird of Connecticut, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Robins migrate each year and many travel as far South as Florida or Mexico. In summer, robins travel as far north as British Columbia.

The color of the bird is brownish-gray with a red chest (females are paler). The three to five eggs that a female lays each year even have a Crayola crayon named after them – Robin's Egg Blue. Robins feed on worms, bugs, fruits, and berries.

They are preyed upon by hawks, cats, and snakes. The average lifespan of a wild robin is approximately two years; however, a banding project discovered one that lived 14 years.

Hunting Habits

A robin running across the grass and suddenly stopping is a funny but common sight among the species. When it stops, the bird cocks its head and appears to listen to the ground for the movement of a worm. But robins do not actually hunt by sound; they look for worms.

Where does the phrase "the early bird gets the worm" come from? Robins snatch up worms near the surface, and worms are located there in the morning because the ground is cool and moist from dew. Worms are less likely to be out later in heat and dry conditions.

Another peculiar thing a robin may do is stamp its foot on the ground when waiting for a worm to appear. This is an attempt to "scare" a worm into moving so the robin can see it and snatch it up. Sneaky!

Have you seen any robins in your area? I first saw some here in New York in January! We still had snow as recently as a few weeks ago, so I think they may have been a little early for worms. But just a few minutes ago there was one outside my window, looking for his breakfast.

Resources:

http://www.nysite.com/nature/fauna/robin.htm

http://animals.howstuffworks.com/birds/robin-info.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Robin

http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art10862.asp

http://www.bsc-eoc.org/national/nw_faq.html#n

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#1

Re: How the Bird Gets the Worm

04/22/2009 8:17 AM

<...Have you seen any robins in your area? ...>

There's one of these that lives in a thicket twenty metres from the bothy. The species is quite fearless and will come really close while horticultural engineering is taking place. Barely a single turn of the spade is need before it arrives, looking for grubs and small worms. This type of robin is therefore labelled affectionately "the gardener's friend" in the UK. The call is a high-pitched variable frequency "chirrup" of some complexity, easily discriminated from other types of local birdsong.

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#2
In reply to #1

Re: How the Bird Gets the Worm

04/23/2009 4:42 AM

Also worth noting that the "UK" robin stays here all winter, and, is very common on UK Christmas cards (usually in a snow scene).

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#9
In reply to #2

Re: How the Bird Gets the Worm

04/27/2009 4:42 AM

There's a fable with a religious connection accounting for the colour of its belly- and face-feathers, and it is this fable that links it to Christmas.

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#3

Re: How the Bird Gets the Worm

04/23/2009 8:13 AM

Here in nothern Illinois some robins winter over! although its not offten Its not unusal to see robins anytime during the winter.

oilcan13

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#4

Re: How the Bird Gets the Worm

04/23/2009 10:29 AM

I read somewhere that the bird eats the worm, i.e. protein, in the morning rather than seeds, i.e. carbohydrates to maintain a proper metabolism. The article stated humans should mimic the practice to regulate blood sugars.

Anybody else hear something similar?

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#5
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Re: How the Bird Gets the Worm

04/23/2009 12:09 PM

This is an interesting idea. I know that when I eat breakfast cereals that are high in protein, I can make it to lunch without a snack. With regular carbohydrate cereals, I need a snack within a few hours.

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#6
In reply to #5

Re: How the Bird Gets the Worm

04/23/2009 1:03 PM

In the same line, I have spoken with a couple of elementary school teachers and they have conducted small surveys of their pupils and the teachers confirm that those students that eat the high-sugar cereals tend to be the ones bouncing out of their chairs at 9-10am. Those that ate eggs and bacon, etc. tended to be more alert, able to focus, and were less 'restless'.

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Anonymous Poster
#7

Re: How the Bird Gets the Worm

04/25/2009 8:46 PM

Actually, Cock Robin (or any bird, boy or girl) is listening for worms! It's not so much a tilt of the eye than a tilt of the ear...like a cat, the eye (and head) only follows the ear.

If Robin had to prance around waiting for a worm to come to surface to be seen and then grabbed, the nestlings would soon starve. When Robin hears a worm (but usually doesn't see it), he/she hops over quickly and pecks into ground chasing it with beak evolved just for the purpose, and then pulls the worm up...kinda like with fishing, sometimes Cock Robin gets the worm (or whatever was heard), sometimes not.

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Anonymous Poster
#8

Re: How the Bird Gets the Worm

04/26/2009 1:16 AM

The first earliest record the the rhyme is in Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book, published c. 1744, which noted only the first four verses. The full version was not printed until c. 1770.

  • Who killed Cock Robin?

I, said the Sparrow,

with my bow and arrow,

I killed Cock Robin.

  • Who saw him die?

I, said the Fly,

with my little eye,

I saw him die.

  • Who caught his blood?

I, said the Fish,

with my little dish,

I caught his blood.

  • Who'll make the shroud?

I, said the Beetle,

with my thread and needle,

I'll make the shroud.

  • Who'll dig his grave?

I, said the Owl,

with my pick and shovel,

I'll dig his grave.

  • Who'll be the parson?

I, said the Rook,

with my little book,

I'll be the parson.

  • Who'll be the clerk?

I, said the Lark,

if it's not in the dark,

I'll be the clerk.

  • Who'll carry the link?

I, said the Linnet,

I'll fetch it in a minute,

I'll carry the link.

  • Who'll be chief mourner?

I, said the Dove,

I mourn for my love,

I'll be chief mourner.

  • Who'll carry the coffin?

I, said the Kite,

if it's not through the night,

I'll carry the coffin.

  • Who'll bear the pall?

We, said the Wren,

both the cock and the hen,

We'll bear the pall.

  • Who'll sing a psalm?

I, said the Thrush,

as she sat on a bush,

I'll sing a psalm.

  • Who'll toll the bell?

I said the bull,

because I can pull,

I'll toll the bell.

  • All the birds of the air

fell a-sighing and a-sobbing,

when they heard the bell toll

for poor Cock Robin.

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