- The Washington Times - Monday, March 3, 2003

Gigantic flocks of robins have descended upon central and southern Virginia during the past few weeks, possibly waiting for warmer weather up north before they resume their seasonal migration.
"I've had 10 or 15 people say, 'What's with all the robins?'" said Charles Blem, a Virginia Commonwealth University biologist who led a field trip last month to several spots just east of Richmond. "We saw robins in every field. I didn't even count them, but it was thousands."
"We're seeing the same thing here," said Bryan Watts, director of the College of William and Mary's Center for Conservation Biology. "We're seeing huge numbers, and we're hearing a lot of comments from other people, too."
The robins, Mr. Watts said, have been gathering across south-central and southeastern Virginia "in the hundreds of thousands, I'm sure."
Mr. Watts is hearing robin reports "all the way to Charlottesville."
The robins that descended on Virginia could be birds that headed north on their spring migration, then got pushed back south by bad weather. When that happens, birds moving back south can bunch up with ones moving north.
"It's possible these cold blasts up north caused a bit of a retreat that has backed them up down here," Mr. Watts said. He added, "You get these kinds of waves, but typically not this early in the year," he said.
Experts agree that the robins are not harbingers of spring.
Robins inhabit Virginia all year. In winter, the birds migrate from Northern states and in summer, the birds move up from southern states. And then there are the birds just passing through in both directions.
That harbinger-of-spring business "is a joke," Mr. Blem said. "The first robin of spring is here on the first of January. There is always a robin here."
Robins mainly eat worms and insects. If they can't find those foods in winter, they turn to berries from hollies and other trees.
In winter, robins gather by the millions in relatively warm, wild spots such as the Great Dismal Swamp wildlife refuge along the Virginia-North Carolina line.
Mr. Blem said robins always try to migrate north as soon as possible. "The first guy back gets the good territory, gets the female, gets to breed."
Robins hover close to the "frost line," Mr. Blem said. For example, if the ground is frozen in New Jersey but soft here, the robins wait here. If the ground freezes in Virginia or gets covered with snow they move back south or southeast, he said.
A surge in robin population occurs every few years, Mr. Blem continued. "It's one of those things that, if you hang around long enough, you'll see it."
He said to expect plenty more robins when the ground thaws and temperatures reach 60 degrees or so.
"They'll be here and singing [very soon]."

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