Amid wintry weather, power outages, water issues, and bursting pipes, Austin is enjoying at least one ray of sunshine: in the form of a massive influx of American robins.
Robins regularly migrate to the South every winter, but in 2021, they've become a spectacular presence, with swarms of robins swooping in and hanging out, everywhere from the courtyards of inner-city lofts to the postage-stamp front yards of the suburbs.
The profusion of birds has been noted by the aviary experts at Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center in Cedar Hill, Texas, who say that robins have been noticed in massive numbers in the area lately.
Educator Katie Christman says it's not our imagination. "Robins came down south this year in really big numbers," she says.
She says it's the result of a phenomenon called an irruption, which is a sudden rapid growth in the population of an organism.
"With American robins and other birds, sometimes you get a shift in the amount of resources," Christman says. "The bird population may have a good year where there's a lot of resources available for that bird, and it can produce a lot more young. During the next cycle in one to two years, there may not be as much food because they produced so many babies."
And with the snow, their presence was magnified, not only because they were more visible, but also because they were more active.
"With ... cold weather, they have to stay active, because they're trying to stay warm," she says.
Robins are well known for eating worms, but in the winter, they switch their diet to fruit and berries, and homeowners are seeing that in action, with their holly, Indian Hawthorn, juniper, and other berry-laden ornamental plants getting wiped out, sometimes in a single afternoon.
Christman has tips if you want to offer them some snacks.
"We recommend high-protein snacks like dried meal worms, which you can get ... anyplace that has high-quality bird seed," she says. "You can also put out peas, oats — but nothing with salt or sugar."
A lot of people put out bread, but that's not something they recommend.