It sounded like a robin and looked like a robin. Lo and behold, it was a robin — sitting in a snow-covered tree at the end of January — in Red Deer.
“I was very surprised to see it,” said Laverna Philip, who with her husband Ron, spotted the feathered harbinger of spring sitting in a neighbour’s crab apple tree twice last weekend.
But Philip was under no delusion that the robin is actually giving a groundhog-like thumbs-up to warmer weather arriving soon.
Rather than returning to Central Alberta early, she believes the bird is wintering in the Woodlea area instead of in more temperate locales favoured by fellow robins this time of year.
“We were thinking (the bird) maybe had a screw loose,” said the chuckling Red Deer resident, who figured it had lost its migratory instinct.
That could be what happened, surmises Red Deer River Naturalist Judy Boyd, who regularly sees some “weird” sights during the Christmas bird count.
“We’ve seen 21 cedar waxwings that were not supposed to be here. Twenty years ago, we never had any northern flickers . . . now there are.”
Boyd has also had unseasonal sightings of geese, barred owl and chipping sparrows.
While there could be something wrong with these birds (“Maybe they don’t have all the light bulbs on in their chandelier,” she joked), Boyd figures these peculiar flyers probably realized they don’t have to trek all the way south because they can find adequate food here through the cold months.
Call them lazy or just enterprising, but migration is hard. “It’s incredibly tough on them,” said Boyd, who believes more bird feeders in the area could be contributing to some species overwintering here.
She considers the robin sighting rare but not unheard of — adding it’s definitely not a sign of an early spring. “It’s probably been here all along.”
Boyd doesn’t believe the Woodlea robin would have perished from extreme cold earlier this week as long as food, such as raisins or crab apples, was available.
“They are pretty hardy . . . if chickadees can fluff out their feathers and stay warm, so could he.”