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American Robin

(Turdus migratorius)

 

The ubiquitous robin is a well-known visitor to lawns and parks. In springtime, robins are usually the first birds to start singing in the morning and often keep it up long into the evening; I've heard the song of a robin at close to midnight on several occasions.

 

Identification

The red breast is the most familiar trait of our robins. The brown-gray back and head offset the rusty red color of the chest and underparts. The bill is slender and yellow and there are white streaks on the throat to go with white eyerings and white spots on the corner of the tail, often visible in flight. Males tend to have darker heads and richer red plumage compared to the paler breast and browner backs and heads of females, but there is enough variation to make some birds difficult to place based solely on plumage intensity. Young birds are easily identified by their brown and white spotted breast.

Habits and Diet

Robins are often found on the ground searching for earthworms. They also will eat other small invertebrates they can catch. The familiar and sometimes comical running then stopping that they repeat is a clue that robins hunt for earthworms by sight not smell or sound. In many cases, however, more than half of this bird's diet will consist of berries and fruits. If you want to bring them to your feeder area, offer fruit in a tray feeder.  They love birdbaths as well and will arrive in flocks to enjoy a nice bath, summer and winter.

Range

Did I say winter? Don't robins go south for the winter? Yes and no. Migration depends on the bird and the weather. In some winters large populations of robins remain in the northern parts on the U.S. and even southern Canada. Mild weather, heated birdbaths or other sources of open water, availability of winter berries, or simply the desire to tough it out for the first crack at the best breeding territories can inspire a robin to overwinter. In most of the southern U.S. robins are a year-round resident and their summer breeding range takes them to the Canadian North and as far as Alaska. Over-wintering robins are called "Resident Robins" and will stay within their resident flocks numbering in the hundreds.  Scientists are looking at information which may point to a genetical variation between resident robins and those that migrate.

Nesting

A robin's nest and baby robins are usually the first baby birds that many children remember seeing.  Why?  Because robins will nest anywhere.  We know you're familiar with this: they'll nest on lights by your front door, under the deck - right by your barbecue of course, and in general anywhere you seem to visit on a regular basis, causing you and your family to re-route for the 12-14 days it takes to incubate the "robin's blue" eggs.  Momma robin will always return to her nest though, so don't worry too much about permanently scaring her away.  She'll lay 3-4 eggs and the nestlings will fledge in 12-14 days.  Robins, like many other birds, cannot fly when they first leave the nest.  A young spotted-breast robin wandering aimlessly through the yard has often been incorrectly indentified as an orphan by well-meaning home owners.  Watch carefully and you'll see the parents teaching it to search for food.  The juvennile robin will be flying within 7 days of leaving the nest. 


The bad (or good) news?  Robins will have multiple broods a year, so your front porch may be in use most of the summer by your robin!


Interesting fact from Cornell's Lab of Ornithology: 

"An American Robin can produce three successful broods in one year. On average, though, only 40 percent of nests successfully produce young. Only 25 percent of those fledged young survive to November. From that point on, about half of the robins alive in any year will make it to the next. Despite the fact that a lucky robin can live to be 14 years old, the entire population turns over on average every six years."

 

listen to the American Robin's beautiful song!

mp3 file generously donated by John Feith