a          robin           among           crabapple           buds





No one needs incentive to venture out in the fine sunny weather we’ve been having here in PA.

So, while out, why not spot some local birds, or even tally some for the Great Backyard Bird Count (running through Monday)? 

Here are the birds we’ve been seeing this winter on a small stretch of Little Crum Creek:

    • blue jay
    • common grackle
    • American crow
    • dark-eyed junco
    • white-throated sparrow
    • house finch
    • hairy woodpecker
    • downy woodpecker
    • red-bellied woodpecker
    • tufted titmouse
    • chickadee
    • wren
    • nuthatch
    • cardinal
    • mourning dove
    • brown-headed cowbird
    • robin
    • house sparrow
    • starling
    • goldfinch
    • turkey vulture
    • red-tailed hawk
    • sharp-shinned hawk
    • Cooper’s hawk

Some are easier to count than others.  Some are easier to photo 


From top: robin, house sparrow, goldfinch, downy woodpecker, starling.

American Robins are so common that we can easily take them for granted.

But All About Birds enumerates the daunting odds that make any robin’s survival quite incredible.  On average:

    • only 40% of nests successfully produce young
    • only 25% of those fledged young survive to November
    • about half of the robins alive in any year will make it to the next

Recent events on Little Crum Creek give witness to these numbers.

By the time we discovered a May nest in the holly bush, it retained only one of the usual 3-5 robin’s eggs.

Before long there were none.


Soon, however, at least two nearby chicks fledged from other nests.

Wobbling, hopping, and flailing newly feathered wings when disturbed, these grounded fledglings mostly waited for their frequent feedings.

Partly hidden by grass, each depended on parents to gather and deliver worms & insects throughout the day.



In a few days, each fumbled toward denser coverage in the creekside brush where occasional chirps alerted parents to their locations.

Soon I lost track, assuming the chirping calls had either blended with the chorus of all summer birds or gone silent.

But nearly a week later, a novice flier bounded across the yard chirping and chasing adult robins who did their best to ignore or escape the tireless pursuit.


Undiminished, the youngster called & called until a mentor relented, perched beside it for a moment, and flew up into the mulberry tree.

The smaller followed for a generous serving of beak-fed fruit.


Surely every robin embodies an extraordinary history of parenting, skill, perseverance, and luck that it cannot take for granted.

Surely every robin deserves a spot in the sun.


The mulberry was a popular tree this spring, hosting a bevy of birds and squirrels each day in its fruit-filled branches.  Gray catbirds were most numerous.  Flitting quickly from perch to perch, they’d pluck and swallow berries as big as their beaks got wide.  Robins fed here too.

If correctly identified, three of these trees seem like a good representation of how mulberries are distributed in the southern portion of Pennsylvania.

100_5873cropHNearest the creek, one tree’s leaves are primarily lobed, feeling finely-haired on the bottom and more like sandpaper on top.  Red and purple berries hang between them.  These traits characterize our native red mulberry tree whose edible fruit was valuable to both Native Americans and European settlers. Bark and roots were used medicinally, fibers were good for rope and weaving, and its wood made good fence and boating material.

100_4960cropHA little further from the creek, at the bottom of a slope, is a smoothly oval-leafed variety of mulberry.  Its white unripe berries were one of the catbird’s favorites. But these berries also ripened to pink, red, and purple this spring.  Unlike our native red, the white mulberry tree hails from China. Entrepreneurs brought it in the 18th and 19th centuries to feed the worms and ambitions of a silk industry that never spun a fortune. The white mulberry subsequently spread so extensively that it often outnumbers the red.  Many call it a weed.

multi-colored berries, click for close-up ... hybrid tree?The white and red trees have even hybridized, making identification particularly difficult.  That brings me to the top of the hill and a mulberry with variously shaped leaves. They are not as smooth on top as the white mulberry, and not nearly as gravelly as the red. Some feel a bit hairy on the bottom. Others, not so much.  Berries turn from white-pinkish to purplish-black.  I’m not sure which to call it–a hybrid perhaps.

Whatever variety, the mulberry perfectly hosted many in its branches this year.  Its fruit came plentifully and has now gone the way of spring. The robins, squirrels, and catbirds are finding new spots to feed.