The arrival of the first American Robin each spring typically has Iowans thinking warmer weather, but for Marilyn Wedemeier of Hawkeye, it's an unusual Piebald Robin that she anxiously awaits returning to her yard on Pearl Street.
The bird is hard to miss with it's mottled looking appearance. Instead of a characteristic bright orange breast and dark-colored tail feathers – the female Robin has a white tail and a blotchy white and orange patched breast. Partial Albinism, or Leucism, (loo KISS em) is described as an absence of melanin in some of the feathers, creating white patches, or a piebald appearance. Albinism has been reported in 54 families of North American birds, but the incidence is greatest in robins and sparrows. Perhaps it's Wedemeier's particularly pretty yard that first attracted the mottled-looking bird. Regardless, Wedemeier says it's the second summer the Robin has returned to live in her yard. "Last year I don't think she had a nest, but this year she built one in that yew over there," Wedemeier explains. Robins aren't shy about building nests in areas frequented by humans. A new nest is built for each brood, and in northern areas like Iowa, the first nest of spring is usually built in an Evergreen with dense cover for protection from the elements.
Subsequent broods are hatched in deciduous trees. Robins typically lay three to five light blue eggs which hatch fourteen days later. Within the next two weeks, Wedemeier will likely know whether the babies in this Robin's nest will have the mutation, as feathering occurs quickly and babies usually leave the nest within a few short weeks of birth. Right now, the birds are still covered in down, after being born naked. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the mutated genes that cause leucism are less likely to be passed on to a new generation. But the folks in this Hawkeye neighborhood might disagree. Wedemeier says she has seen two of the Leucistic Robins, and her neighbor across the street, Bob Mackey, has seen three at his bird bath. Considering that studies have found that only 25% of young Robins survive the first year of life, it's interesting to note that this is the second year Wedemeier's Piebald Robin has returned to Hawkeye, and to the very same yard. The longest known lifespan in the wild of an American Robin is fourteen years. The average lifespan is just two years. The American Robin is the state bird of Connecticut, Michigan and Wisconsin, but a welcome addition to this Iowa town.