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Totems: American Robin

by Cie Simurro, a.k.a. Thunderbird Starwoman


You know you can start fresh anytime, don’t you? Each new dawn, every spring or birthday carries the promise of renewal. Open wide and take a big gulp out of life. Even suffering can be used as potential for awakening. It will make the ego crack open to allow one’s essence to emerge. I AM ROBIN. I persevere in bringing the dreams of my heart into reality. Change or stay stuck? If life has you down or you are wrapped in self-criticism, call on me for a new perspective, for clarity. Are you nourishing yourself with energy from the Earth? Listen to my song. Let it inspire you and lift you. Look around. What can you make that’s useful and beautiful? What cheers your heart? How about making yourself your work of art?

If there is a universal sign heralding the arrival of spring across America, it is the return of the robin. The image of that rusty-red breast, famously pulling worms out of the ground has become iconic. Did you know that robins (turdus migratorius) belong to the thrush family? Despite the scientific name, not all robins migrate. Whether returning from migration or as yearly inhabitants, the adaptable robin is among the first to be seen in spring, in farmland, woods, swamps, parks, and gardens everywhere.

Though still winter, I anticipated the early spring return of robin by beginning to write of our cheery friend. The birdfeeder was positioned outside the living room window for the sheer joy of watching winter birds feed while being two feet away. As long as there is a screen or windowpane between us, the birds are content to perch and eat there. A female robin came to the feeder and perched on the edge to munch on a sunflower seed. I use high-energy bird food that has fruit in it as well as seeds and nuts. Robins like fruit, especially in winter when favored worms, insects and wild fruit are scarce. What’s a robin doing in Massachusetts in winter, you may ask? Well, except for an untimely blizzard at the end of October, the first part of winter was unusually mild. Robins may not migrate if there is enough food available to get them through the winter, though even if they don’t migrate, some birds, including robins have a biological response to the amount of light, and an internal biological clock that gets restless when migration should be happening.

Robins are known for their trilling songs: cheerily, cheer-up, cheerio; or expressive calls: tut-tut or piik-piik. Between their calls and songs, they provide great listening from dawn to sunset. On long road trips with my baby daughter, I would pull out every song I knew to keep her entertained and occupied. One of these went like this: "When the red, red robin comes bob, bob, bobbin’ along; There’ll be no more sobbin’ when he starts throbbin’ his old sweet song; Wake up, wake up you sleepy head; Get up, get out of bed; Cheer up, cheer up the sun is red; Live, laugh, love and be happy." Then there was also the 1958 hit, Rockin’ Robin, later covered in 1972 by Michael Jackson.

Both songs encapsulate robin’s medicine. Robin’s song and color signify cheer, infusing new life and starting over. People with robin as a totem usually have a fresh, vibrant look, often with sweet singing voices with a bit of vibrato. But don’t let that sweet voice fool you. Robins (and folks with this totem) have a bold side too. As any gardener will tell you: dig a hole and soon a robin, impervious to your presence, will be claiming a morsel, worm or bug. In Europe robins are small, but in North America they are 10-11 inches. In his book, Wild Animals Around Your Home, Paul Villiard recounts his experience of watching two adult robins taking turns attacking a 6-foot long rat snake on a lower limb of the tree holding their nest with several chicks. Both male and female were relentless in dive-bombing the threat to their chicks, even though chicks only remain with them for two to three weeks. Even so, robin energy frequently exhibits care and devotion to the family. This passion shows itself in colors of red and orange, and the frequency of breeding. Robins will have two or three broods a season.

When a stuffed robin was placed in the territory of an American robin, the live bird attacked the stuffed bird until it was torn apart, reacting to its shape and color. The fight between males usually takes place however, on the perch through singing rather than physical combat. The loser leaves. Males are known to advertise their own red color, and react to the red of other males. Well, orange-red. Red is the color to which the first chakra vibrates (safety, being grounded, security), and orange, (sexuality, creativity, spirituality) the second chakra. When robin comes into your life, expect the vibrancy of the red to reflect new, earthy experiences in one of the realms of the second chakra. The color of the breast area can indicate new love, a spiritual breakthrough or new work of art. If this is your totem, perhaps you are known for your heartfelt singing or your loving qualities. The female breast color is more orange than the male’s brick-red. The female builds and stays with the nest; the male is present for feeding the chicks and protecting them as well as mom, but roosts with other males and fledglings to save on rent (just kidding!). Mom-bird will build her sturdy cup-nest of roots, twigs and mud, lined with softness to hold 3 or 4 eggs in shrubs, trees, or on buildings. That robin’s egg-blue color resonates with the 5th (thyroid) chakra, the bridge between the physical and spirit. This chakra is where we vocally express our feelings rather than keeping them stuffed down, or worrying about what others will think. The 5th chakra is also the seat of our natural will. Balancing these areas of our lives is what robin totem is about.

When I studied with The Tracker, Tom Brown Jr., he told a story about robin I never forgot. He used to like to try and sneak up (he never could) on his teacher, Stalking Wolf. One day, he saw that Stalking Wolf was intently peering into a bush by a stream. When he finally left, Tom went to the bush to see what his mentor had been staring at. All he saw was a robin. Since he couldn’t believe that something as ordinary as a robin had captured his teacher’s attention, he later asked Stalking Wolf what he had been observing. He told him it was a robin. "Just a robin?" Tom asked incredulously. Stalking Wolf’s reaction was one of the few times he ever expressed dis-appointment in his pupil. He told Tom, "Until you have seen the 14 colors in a robin’s eye, you have not yet learned to see." That one sentence humbled Tom and reminded him to look deeper.

Speaking of looking, that robin cocking his head on your lawn is not "listening" for worms. It is trying for the most acute angle of vision on that side, in order to detect movement or catch a glint off a worm. As you may have guessed, robins see in color. Robin’s message is to pay attention to what you see and hear. The beak is also significant. It must act like a hand, picking things up, catching things, hammering, chiseling, pruning, grooming, communicating, weaving nests, taking care of young, killing prey, eating, and defending. Robin’s feet are marvels of dexterity as well. They grasp, move, pin down and scratch. If you are experiencing robin energy, you are quite capable. Perhaps robin is urging you to build or make something.

Territory is nature’s way of helping birds survive by parceling out habitat into areas capable of supporting a pair in feeding and breeding. Young robins must wait for new territory to open up. As soon as one of a pair dies, another robin takes its place. If both leave the area or die, a new couple will move in. The number of pairs of robins in any given area remains largely the same. The reason that is amazing is because often in nature, other factors such as food supply and rainfall affect the population. Nature builds conditions of protection into an area. Colors and patterns camouflage. Robins can never eat all the earthworms in a lawn. However, man can so upset the natural protections and rhythms of nature that entire species can be wiped out. We learned this tragically before DDT was banned. In an effort to save Mid-west elm trees, over a half-million robins were killed by the pesticide. Currently, we have systemic pesticides spreading through food-chains and ecosystems. Runoff especially affects ponds and rivers where many food-chains begin. Think of this the next time you reach for poisonous cleaners or pesticides. A world without the song of robins would be iniquity of the highest order.

Cie Simurro ~ Thunderbird Starwoman has been a Healer, Writer, Minister, Advocate and Steward for the natural world for over 35 years. For Healing for you or your animal, Training, or her Book, Totems for Stewards of the Earth ($22 to PO 295, Shelburne Falls MA 01370), call 413 625-0385 or email: cie@ciesimurro.com


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