When I was a little kid there were three kinds of birds: sparrows, pigeons and robins. I knew this in the way I knew there were two kinds of cars, Fords and sedans.

When I was a little kid there were three kinds of birds: sparrows, pigeons and robins. I knew this in the way I knew there were two kinds of cars, Fords and sedans.

It turned out there were ducks. But they were a special case, hanging out where the Mississippi River zigged east and west between Iowa and Illinois, or in the park where you fed them balloon bread. But in the neighborhood it was the sparrows, pigeons and robins that were in charge of keepin' it real.

A girl named Cecilia, a year or two older than me, an older woman, called pigeons "rats with wings," a not inept description one still hears (for perspective, get the "Ratatouille" DVD and watch the special feature in which Remy muses on the relationship between people and rats). We found the dingy little sparrows less entertaining than the winged rats with their mincing gait.

Robins were best. Sometimes they'd go crazy and just sit and do robin calls all day to no apparent effect. Seeing a robin pounce on a clueless night crawler and tug on it and spaghettify it was hot stuff. Discovering a robin's nest, a twiggy thing packed with mud and lined with grass, containing four sky-blue, perfect eggs, was a magical moment.

Later in life I would willingly spend time and money chasing birds around. I'm not saying I'm a good birder. I know what good birding looks like, and it's not me. But I've seen lots of fascinating birds. Yet in the way things have of coming full circle, I have again realized that robins are pretty cool.

You have to admire a bird that increases in population during the ongoing holocaust humans are unleashing on the natural world. Robin populations plummeted in the 1950s, when they were poisoned by DDT sprayed to combat Dutch elm disease. Bald eagles and peregrine falcons became poster birds for "Silent Spring" worries, and so did robins. People were alarmed at the potential disappearance of the bird that greets the morning with "cheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheery-up, cheery-o," and so on. Who couldn't get behind that?

Robins had been eating worms that ate decaying, poisoned leaf stuff. With the banning of DDT robins recovered, along with eagles and, to a lesser extent, peregrines (there is such a thing as good news). Robins spread with irrigation and proliferating suburbs with lawns and parks and cemeteries and golf courses.

I don't want this ramble to turn into a laundry list of robin lore, but let's clear up one thing. When robins cock their heads, they are not listening for worms. They are looking for worm movements. If your eyes were back on your temples, you'd cock your head, too.

Flashback to last Sunday. My wife and I see robins flying over the house, one by one. In a moment there are several in the front yard, cocking their heads, pouncing, flinging landscape bark.

More robins descend. Then more. It is a Hitchcock moment. But instead of gulls and crows it's robins. At one end of the house, perched on a fence, peering straight through the window at me with flinty robin eyes, is one of the marauders. We are surrounded.

Out front the feathered hoard has increased, dozens of frantic robins, just robins, hungry customers with sharp eyes and bills, scattering bark and chowing down like crazy, dark, ravening shapes in the dying sunset. It is something you don't see every day, a robin riot, and we watch, just watch.

May they live long and prosper.