Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The American Robin by Roland H. Wauer

A week or so ago, I got an email from my aunt, telling me how one of her friends married a man who became prominent birder and wrote wildlife guides while working for the National Park Service. Marian Sue told me this after noticing some bird pictures that I posted. Being a reference librarian, I did the logical thing and looked the author up. Low and behold, my library actually owned one of his books, The American Robin by Roland H. Wauer. I checked it out and read a little that night and most of the rest waiting for a train the next day.

In easy flowing text, Bauer tells us much about America's most widely distributed songbird, a bird so common that it is almost universally recognized and rarely considered worth considering. The robin is a bird that has actually benefited from suburban development of land, as it thrives on lawns that expose worm habitat. As humans have built towns in various environments that were not previously robin-friendly (like deserts), the red breasted birds have followed. Robins are now found in all 48 contiguous states. Still, the life of the robin is fraught with danger. Breeding pairs can produce many young over the course of a summer, but most fall prey (either at the egg or fledgling stages) to house cats, hawks, squirrels, and snakes. The best part is when Bauer tells unusual stories that make readers realize that not all animal behavior is uniform and predictable. I liked especially the stories about robins cooperating with birds of other species to raise chicks and protect against predators.

As I read, I kept nodding to myself as I realized I had seen much of what Bauer describes. He verified that the speckle chested bird that Bonnie and I saw following a robin on Memorial Day weekend was a fledgling. The mature robin, according to Bauer, must have been a male, as the males take responsibility for young right after they leave the nest, while females attend to the next brood of eggs.

Published by the University of Texas Press, The American Robin is one of a series of books in the Corrie Herring Series, which focuses on natural history topics. I want to read The Cardinal by June Osborne and The Mockingbird by Robin W. Doughty. Then I might read about some raptors.

Wauer, Roland H. The American Robin. University of Texas Press, 1999. ISBN 0292791232.

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