Birding: American Robin lives locally year-round |

Birding: American Robin lives locally year-round

Larry Collins
Free Press Home & Garden Columnist
Robin Eggs in Nest
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto

I even had a group of robins doing battle with Cedar Waxwings over the apples in my crabapple tree in February.

The American Robin is a member of the thrush family, which also includes bluebirds, solitaires and the wood thrushes. The American Robin was named by early colonists for the European Robin they left behind. The two are only distantly related, though both have red breasts.

The American Robin can be found throughout North America at some time during the year. Male robins have a dark gray to almost black back and tail with a rust/brick colored breast. The female is the same, but paler all over. The juvenile robins have a spotted breast. American Robins living in the western states tend to be paler in color and often lack the white markings on the outer corners of their tail.

While the majority of American Robins migrate to the south each fall, a small number of stragglers usually remain behind and endure the winter. The majority of over-wintering robins are males trying to ensure they have first choice of nesting territories in the spring. Females migrate to areas where food is more abundant to help ensure they are in top condition for the rigors of raising young in the spring. Male robins that migrate usually arrive on the breeding grounds up to two weeks before the females return. American Robins migrate in flocks primarily during the daylight hours.

Robins are attracted to open lawns and gardens with mature shrubbery and trees. While they eat a variety of insects and berries, it has been noted that robins can eat up to 14 feet of earthworms in a day. Worms only make up about 15-20 percent of the summer diet for American Robins. Contrary to popular belief, American Robins don’t find earthworms by hearing or smelling them. Robins find earthworms by cocking their head to one side, independently using each eye to look for visible signs of worms. You will likely find robins in your yard after a rain or after the sprinkler has been on or even after the lawn has been mowed, as this brings worms and insects to the surface.

Robins can be attracted to a feeding station by offering mealworms, fruit, and a birdbath. It’s especially fun to offer mealworms during nesting season when the robins can stop and pick up a mouthful of tasty worms to take back to their babies. They will fill their mouth until you think nothing else could possibly fit inside and still continue to try to pick up more, dropping some in the process and then trying to pick those back up. It can be very entertaining to watch!

Robins change their feeding habits depending on the time of day. They will eat more earthworms early in the day, when they are easier to find, and then switch to fruit later in the day. During winter months when worms are not available, the robins’ diet consists primarily of fruit.

Only the male American Robin sings, but both sexes have calls and alarm notes. You typically hear the robin first thing in the spring in the morning and last thing before dark.

Unlike most birds, robins do not lay their eggs at sunrise. They lay their eggs several hours later during the mid-morning. Since earthworms are easier to find in the early morning, they feed first thing in the morning and then return to their nest to lay their egg. On average, over 50 percent of all nesting attempts by American Robins fail to produce young. Out of the successful nesting attempts, only one-fourth of the fledglings will survive until November. Robins typically nest from April through July and can have two to three broods in a season. The female does the nest building and incubates the eggs alone. Upon hatching, both parents feed the average brood of four young.

The American Robin will use mud in its nest to give it strength. You can put out a small pan of mud and nesting materials (short strings, yarn, dry grasses) and watch the robins come collect materials to make their nests. Robins usually return to the same area to nest each year and may occasionally use last year’s nest again after some renovation.

Robins live on average about 1.5 years; but, according to bird banding records, the oldest known robin found in the wild was almost 14 years old.

Local bird expert and GJ Free Press columnist Larry Collins owns Wild Birds Unlimited, 2454 Hwy. 6&50, which caters to folks who want the best backyard bird-feeding experience possible. Email your bird-feeding and birding questions to and he’ll answer them here.

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