Robins devour apples, but what would they really prefer?

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, April 24, 2013

A hope-filled sign of spring, robins descend on columnist’s backyard apple tree near bedroom window and are greeted by his camera-toting wife. Photos by Mary Anna Harbeck
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They’re back!

Yup, a whole flock of robins paid their annual springtime visit to our backyard apple tree the other day. They filled their fluffy bodies with all the fruit they could eat, scoffed at the winter’s lingering snow, and posed real pretty-like for my wife Mary Anna’s ever-handy compact camera.

Our apple tree has become a popular destination for these cheery guests. In fact, Mary Anna stopped harvesting the small apples a few years ago, just so there’d be plenty of fruit on the tree when they dropped by.

The tree is within touching distance of our bedroom window. We even removed the screen from that window just so Mary Anna could have an unobstructed view for photos – assuming she’s able to slide the window open quietly and slowly enough not to frighten our feathered friends away.

I’ve suspected for some time that Mary Anna’s fascination with robins enjoying their springtime feast is a touch of nostalgia. I think she’s actually recalling her own childhood memories of munching on apples with her grandma.

Grandma Cheney also had a backyard apple tree. But that tree grew really big, juicy apples. Crunchy apples!

Mary Anna and her sister, Rhoda, would sit on the backyard swing with their grandma, and the three of them would crunch apples as loudly as possible.

“Apples taste so much better when you crunch them real loud,” Grandma would say.

I shared Mary Anna’s robin photos with noted foothills outdoors writer Pam Asheton. Although Pam said she loved the photos, she didn’t give me quite the response I was expecting.

To help me understand what robins are really thinking about at our backyard buffet, she spoke from the robins’ perspective:

“Apples are all very well in emergencies, but we want worms!”

She cited research noting that only 10% of a robin’s springtime diet consists of fruit. Worms and the like make up a whopping 90%.

“Believe it or not,” she said, “you can buy robin 'worms' in case the ground is frozen, to tide them over. I have two packets – seriously! – in my freezer, for their emergencies! You put them out in a robin-type place and they'll love you forever – even more than your gorgeous tree!”

Worms, tastier than crunchy apples? Now, that kind of feast is for the birds!

© 2013 Warren Harbeck

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