With the grand opening of our Hickory Knolls Discovery Center just around the corner, the park district’s Naturalist Department has been working some pretty long days lately. But you won’t catch me complaining.
For one thing, the building represents the culmination of years of careful planning; it’s an honor to be a part of this extraordinary project. For another, being able to work as a naturalist, even when the days are long and stressful, is a tremendous privilege; any naturalist who says it isn’t is probably in the wrong line of work.
And finally, I’m not complaining because all of us at Hickory Knolls have a neighbor who’s working even longer days than we are. He’s up before the sun, pouring his heart into his demanding and dangerous job, working virtually nonstop until just after sunset – which, these days, amounts to an almost 14-hour work day.
Chances are you have a neighbor like this, too: the American robin, Turdus migratorius.
A pair of robins has decided to make their home on a ledge outside the Hickory Knolls lobby, and the arrangement appears to be working out well for all of us. We get to enjoy watching their nest-building progress, and they get to take full advantage of the protection offered by our building’s deep eaves and steep, windowed walls (a near-perfect setting, except for when the weather gets really wild, like it did last Tuesday night. Mom Robin, like a lot of homeowners in the area, had some cleanup and repairs to make Wednesday morning.)
Even though the books say that male and female robins share in nest-building chores, “our” male seems to be contributing only minimally to the project. He’s too busy defending the territory around the nest.
With robin populations seemingly thriving, he’s got his work cut out for him. And so he turns to the best weapon in his defense arsenal, his song.
The American robin’s song is one of the most easily recognizable among the birds that call our area home. It’s loud, and clear – qualities that have caused more than a few people to curse the bird’s early morning, up-and-at-’em attitude.
The mnemonic for the robin’s song goes, “Cheery-up, cheerio.” But if you listen closely, you’ll hear that every robin adds his own special twist. Maybe it’s as simple as a few extra ups, as in “Cheery-up-up-up,” or some added “o”s, as in “Cheerio-o-o.” But often you’ll hear even more elaborate riffs that incorporate unique warbles and phrases, to the extent where – if you’re really paying attention – you can distinguish between individual singers.
To our ears the song is melodic, providing pleasant background music to our time outdoors. But for other robins in the area, the sounds are anything but sweet. They are warnings, maybe even threats, that the area is already claimed, taken, occupado, and that any and all other robins better darn well steer clear, or else...
The start of another work week is just around the corner. When you get up Monday morning, maybe a bit overwhelmed by the work that lies ahead, or when you get home Monday night, perhaps exhausted from your long day, you can do one of two things. You can tune everything out around you and focus on your own lot in life – usually our most common choice – or you can choose to look and listen to the robins around you and realize your workday really wasn’t so bad.
Speaking of hard work – a thousand thanks to the industrious sixth-graders from Haines Middle School who came out Thursday for a pre-Earth Day workday at Langum Park in St. Charles. Piles of invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn were removed from the park’s oak-hickory woodland.
In addition, the members of Mr. Evans’ Sunshine Cleaners team amassed two large trash bags of junk – plus a bicycle and a big hunk of corrugated plastic pipe – making the woods a cleaner and safer place for humans and wildlife alike. Way to go!
• Pam Otto is the manager of nature programs and interpretive services for the St. Charles Park District. She can be reached at 630-513-4346 or firstname.lastname@example.org.