Niagara Gazette

January 21, 2014

Believe it -- robins enjoy a frigid Goat Island

By Don Glynn
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Forget that long-held belief that robins always head for the Sun Belt to escape the wintry climes. They don't.

In fact, some were hanging out Tuesday afternoon — 58 days before spring officially arrives — near Terrapin Point on Goat Island. At the time, the thermometer registered 8 degrees.

"I was surprised to see how big they appeared, almost bloated," said Niagara Gazette photographer Jim Neiss who quickly stopped for a closer look. Perhaps, he noted, it was the wild berries in the trees that lured them to the icy perch close to the Horseshoe Falls. 

Mark Carra, a naturalist with the Buffalo Audubon Society, said he wasn't surprised the robins were there amidst the freezing environment. 

"People everywhere seem to have a general misconception that all robins go elsewhere for the winter," Carra said, "Goat Island is one of the most unique habitats in New York state, with the water and mist from the falls, the humidity and other factors. They obviously like it there." Carra agreed the birds would appear bigger than they really are because they tend to ruffle their feathers, "a way to trap air and keep their bodies warm."

Carol Rogers, a veteran staffer with the state parks interpretive office, said she was leading a tour on New Year's Day when the group spotted a number of robins in trees near the eastern end of Goat Island. She also has often seen them during the winter in Beaver Island State Park, along the upper river.

Experts say it's not unusual for robins — even in winter — to stay in an area where there is open water from a river or stream and close to fruit trees. The water and fruit get them the strength and nutrition to survive the elements.