Charles Christy called a week ago to report that he had seen a robin in his backyard in Egg Harbor Township.

The sighting made him hopeful that nature was signaling an early end to this exceptionally cold and snowy winter. I could hear in his voice as he asked, "Does this mean spring is right around the corner?" that he really wanted the answer to be yes.

Just about everyone has had enough of winter, even me. Despite the fun of hiking in snowshoes where merely booted feet can't tread, I long for the easier, more convenient mild winter days we usually have in southern New Jersey.

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Alas, just seeing a robin is not enough to give us hope.

Most people see robins hunting for earthworms on lawns, taking a few quick steps, halting and cocking their heads to look carefully for worm holes.

But just because the lawns are under the snow and the worms are below the frost line doesn't mean the robins have left town. They've just switched to a habitat that still has food - forests and wooded areas - where they eat holly and juniper berries and other lingering fruits.

The American robin is a hearty bird, a large member of the thrush family. Robins remain in winter even in Maine, Minnesota and Montana, so our winters surely aren't that challenging to them.

Seeing robins stalking worms isn't a sure sign of spring in this region. In January, we had a warm day in which the rain flushed enough worms to the surface to provide the robins with a welcome protein supplement to their winter diet.

The true robin of spring is a male robin belting out his warbling, almost-gurgling song in the morning to win a mate for the impending nesting season.

Hear that and the worst of winter is over.

Popular birds

Cardinals have long been thought to be the most popular bird. Much money has been spent on premium seed to lure cardinals to backyards.

Chickadees have a sizable following, too, and judging from several calls recently about bluebirds, they are on the top 10 list.

A recent column about the increasing number of bald eagles, however, evoked reports of sightings from across the region.

Joseph Ryley hadn't seen an eagle in his 20 years in Absecon, but this winter, he has watched a pair soaring and perched eating prey.

Ray Woolley, of the Smithville section of Galloway Township, has seen an adult giving two juveniles flying lessons.

One of our reporters told me he saw an eagle in a tree across from a vegetable stand on the White Horse Pike in Hammonton.

And John Steiger, of Wildwood, saw and photographed a pair on the marsh near the mainland.

Eagles may become the most popular as they become more common. Can eagle feeding be far behind?

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