April 13, 2011

Rough Around the Edges

There is the coolest little robin that lives just outside the music building...

When I first saw him, I assumed he was just a young bird whose grown-up feathers were still sprouting through leftover baby down. As I've been able to observe him more closely over a longer period however, it's become obvious that he is instead fully grown and that his white splotches are a permanent feature. I guess that strictly speaking (and maybe even to female robins on the lookout for a mate) this little guy looks a little rough around the edges. I don't know if the mutation that has changed the appearance of this robin's feathers signals deeper and more meaningful internal problems (as can sometimes be the case), but he does have quite an attitude! I've seen him go after other robins intruding in his territory (I have no idea if robins are usually territorial)...so I guess he really is just as scrappy as his looks suggest. He's also pretty fearless around people. When I took these photos, I was sure he'd eventually get spooked by my proximity and fly to safety, but he just continued to watch me like "yeah!...what are you lookin' at!"

I worried at first that his striking appearance and lack of inhibition would draw too much attention and tempt some twisted individual to torment or harm him. Every time I see him prowling the lawn for worms or staked out in a tree surveying his domain I smile and send up a silent cheer that he's still around.

I wonder if he's successful for a long period of time and eventually finds a mate, will his descendants take on this mottled appearance? Will the NU campus eventually be populated by mottled robins with an attitude?

I heard a radio story once about work done in Russia in the 50's attempting to breed foxes on a fur farm to be more tame (****IMPORTANT!!!!! I DO NOT SUPPORT THE RAISING OF SUCH ANIMALS FOR FUR!!!!!!****). The breeders continually selected young foxes with the most amiable dispositions (ones that didn't run or aggress toward their keepers) and in a surprisingly short period of time had a population of foxes that behaved and, unexpectedly, even looked more like their domesticated counterparts. It seems that by selecting for tameness, an unintentional consequence was the foxes had floppy ears (as opposed to straight and upward pointing ones), tails that curly-cued upward (as opposed to straight flowing ones), and a mottled coat (as opposed to a smoothly toned one). The tie in between demeanor and physical appearance existed because the tamer foxes tended to produce lower levels of adrenaline--which I guess is a chemical that plays a part in the development of certain physical traits.

Hmmm. So it is at least conceivable that this robin's quirky appearance does have a real tie in to its personality. It will be interesting to see if his characteristics are carried forward into a new generation.


  1. Fun observations. I am hoping for updates on your little robin. Did you give him a name?

  2. I wonder if this is applicable to humans? Maybe it is one bit of evidence toward explaining why "nice guys finish last"?

  3. That's so interesting because my hubbie listened to a similar (or maybe the same) radio show and we have discussed it on several different occasions. I saw your art on Siri's fb and decided to check out your blog. I love your observations! Hope you don't mind sharing. Hope all is well.