Hope's Corner: The Fellowship of the Robins

"Who knew robins had their own form of the Marco Polo game?" writes Jackie Hope.

Jackie Hope BW.jpg
Jackie Hope is the longest running Dickinson Press contributor and columnist. Hope's Corner is a weekly humorous column with a message of hope. (CONTRIBUTED / FOR THE DICKINSON PRESS)

According to Facebook, The Weather Channel, and my church choir, spring arrived around 9:30 last Sunday morning. Of course, on Saturday I knew spring was set to arrive, because I heard a robin singing in the back yard.

Yes, I am aware that there is a flock of robins that lives in the Badlands year ‘round. But what I heard was a spring robin, not an I-live-here-all-the-time robin. There is a difference. Because the spring robins show up in our back yard every year during a mid-March window. The earliest they have ever arrived was on March 9 in 2020. The latest was March 27 in 2006.

One winter the all-the-time robins visited our yard. A huge flock stopped at our olive tree and feasted on freeze dried olives that were still on the tree. They did not seem to enjoy the frozen olives nearly as much as a spring robin flock enjoyed the mushy and probably fermented crabapples in our front yard one March. We heard some very interesting songs from that group. And they flew really low over the driveway after partaking of the suspicious crabapples.

Spring robins, with the exception of the partying crew in the crabapple tree, seem to have a distinctive song. The guy robins sing something like, “Cheerily! Cheer up!” over and over and over. It works wonders on my winter-weary ears. And it works pretty well on cute lady robins, as well.

This robin song is not an anytime chorus. The males sing this song only in spring, often early in the morning and at dusk. According to Cornell University’s website, the robin song is 10 separate whistles that the birds put together into syllables. And then they sing it over and over, in the hope of attracting a cute lady.


The birdsong is presented in a long “Cheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up!” and then there is a pause before the whole thing begins again. They can sing this song up to a couple thousand times a day, given enough breaks for earthworms and crabapples. And the song moves more quickly at dawn than at any other time of day.

That clucky sound we hear robins, both males and females, make is their way of knowing where everyone is. Who knew robins had their own form of the Marco Polo game? They also have a shrill peep sound, which is an alarm call. Katie the Wonder Puppy hears that sound lots when she is bird watching in the yard.

Robins are monogamous throughout their breeding season, and often stay mated for more than one season. So those songs are pretty important for the boy robins. The early bird gets the worm, and the early robin gets the girl. You gotta feel sorry for the poor guy who sings his love song 2000 times in one day, and all he has at the end of the day is earthworm breath and a crabapple hangover.

Jackie Hope is the longest running Dickinson Press contributor and columnist. "Hope's Corner" is a weekly humorous column centered on a message of hope for residents in southwest North Dakota.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Dickinson Press, nor Forum ownership.

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