Tag Archives: thrush

American Robin – Nature’s Harbinger of Spring

The last snow on the ground has finally melted away. It’s early spring. The first hints of warmth are beating down from the sun. Life, for as long as you can remember, has been cold and white… has it been 6 weeks? No, maybe 2 months… longer? Who knows how long it has been since you’ve seen green grass, but it is a glorious sight. The bright green of new growth surrounds you. You finally get a chance to sit out on your back deck with a nice cocktail after work when all of a sudden you hear a “whinney” from a tree in your side yard… you know this sound. It means spring is officially here. And as if it knew you were thinking of it, a flash of orange descends onto your yard on a mission for a tasty treat.

The American robin, Turdus migratorius (Latin for migratory thrush), is the first sign of spring for many in northern North America. Though its range stretches south into areas where it can be viewed year around, it is typically one of the earliest birds to lay its eggs during the spring breeding season. These resourceful thrushes make their nest out of anything from paper to twigs. They will smear mud to hold the nest all together and often will make a soft lining out of grass. A protected and safe nesting site can sometimes produce up to three broods with multiple chicks in one year.

American_Robin_Nest_with_Eggs
Robin eggs, photo by Laslovarga (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Common
With a sleek gray to brown back and head and a rusty orange chest and belly, there isn’t any other bird in North America that can really be mistaken for an American robin. When in flight, a white patch under the tail and lower belly can be noticed. Sexual dimorphism, or the visual difference between male and female, within this species isn’t very noticeable, but the female does tend to have a more pale head.

This large member of the thrush family uses a wide range of habitats from wide open spaces like lawns and tundra, to neighborhoods with scattered trees and shrubs, as well as deciduous and evergreen woodlands. Robins are often found hopping along or standing erect on a lawn searching for invertebrates, such as earthworms or grubs, but can also be seen in bushes and trees feeding on caterpillars, fruits and berries. Typically, a robin’s diet changes throughout the day, with more yummy earthworms in the morning — thus the phrase “the early bird catches the worm” — and more delectable berries in the afternoon. During the late fall and winter months, they often gather in large flocks (sometimes numbering close to 250,000 individuals!) to eat berries and roots that are still available. Sometimes, when winter flocks feed exclusively on crabapples or honeysuckle berries, they can become intoxicated due to the fermentation of sugars in the berries! When birds become intoxicated from fermented berries, most are just a bit tipsy and you might not be able to notice any signs. However, when some birds overdo it, they may have trouble perching, hopping/walking, and controlling their flight, often crashing into branches and each other. Sadly, this also includes crashing into larger obstacles, like buildings, which can lead to the bird’s death.

Cousin to the musical hermit thrush and wood thrush, the robin is also an impressive songster. However, as one of the first birds to sing at dawn – or predawn – they make many a camper grumpy from the early wake-up call. The song is a loud, repeated musical whistle that ascends and descends through a series of notes. They have a variety of calls ranging from an alarm ‘yeep chuck’ to a loud ‘whinney’. To hear their songs and calls, or to learn some more cool facts about American Robins, visit The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.  Get started by listening to robins call below.

Some interesting tidbits:

  • Only 40% of nests produce offspring
  • Only 25% of young robins survive the first year
  • The average lifespan is 2 years; longest known is 14 years
  • State bird of Connecticut, Michigan and Wisconsin
  • They occur across almost all of Canada and the United States
  • Known to winter as far south as Mexico, the Gulf Coast, and Cuba
  • Was featured on the Canadian $2 bill (no longer in use)

Post by Matt Brincka, State Parks