American Robin

American Robin Photo from wikipedia.org
10 April 2010 Written by 
Published in Birds

Originally published on www.critters360.com

The American Robin is the best-known thrush in North America.  It has adapted to human habitation more than other thrushes, and is seen in almost any city park or suburban lawn.  But before discussing the robin in detail, here is a brief review of the other thrushes in North America.

Family Turdidae

Thrushes are known throughout the world except for the Polar Regions and Polynesia. There are about 304 species in this family worldwide, and 10 in eastern North America.  Many of these are largely birds of the far north, including the varied thrush, the northern wheatear, and the gray- cheeked thrush.

The eastern bluebird lives in much of the U.S. east of the Rockies.  It has a red breast like the robin, but blue back and wings.  Its counterpart in the west is the mountain bluebird, a truly blue bird.

The veery, Swainson’s thrush, and hermit thrush, all with ethereal songs, are found in northeastern woodlands.  The wood thrush is found in most of the U.S. east of the Mississippi except south Florida.

Turdus migratorious or American Robin

The most well known thrush in North America is the Turdus migratorious. It is a common in woodlands, and suburban and urban yards across most of the continent.  Though it migrates, many remain in the snowy north over the winter.  In parts of the south central U.S. and Florida the robin is a winter resident only.

This 10-inch bird is easily recognized with its bright orange-red breast. The bill is yellow, the head nearly black, and the back and wings a grayish-brown.  The throat is white with black striping, and it has a broken white eye-ring.  White spots on its tail are seen as it flies away with its 12 to 14 inch wingspan.

It is first seen in March eating worms on lawns and golf courses.  The jerky, short hopping run is interrupted by brief pauses, and then it hops away again.  In the spring, worms are a major food.  As spring progresses into summer, robins consume large numbers of insects, especially beetles in spring and fall, and grasshoppers in late summer.  They enjoy a wide variety of wild fruit, including berries of barberry, chokecherry, and sumac.  These wild berries are often the only source of food in the winter.  They do eat some agricultural fruit, especially cherries.

Nesting and Breeding

Robins are usually monogamous and nest on a territory as small as a third of an acre.  They are territorial and strongly defensive of their territory and young.  The nest is cup shaped, made mostly of mud and grasses, held together by finer grasses and animal fur.  It is usually in protected evergreens, cedar hedges being commonly used.  Nests are usually less than ten feet from the ground. 

The 3 to 7 eggs are a greenish to turquoise blue, sometimes flecked with brown.  Incubation is mostly by the female for nearly 2 weeks. The young are helpless at first, or altricial.  They are brooded by the female for 14 to 16 days prior to fledging.   The male sometimes helps in this as the female may be starting another nest for a second brood. There are often three broods in the south, 1 or 2 in the north. 

Song and Call

The piercing tremolo of the robin’s song is often the last bird-call heard at night as it roosts shortly after sunset.  In spring and early summer, it is also the first bird heard in the morning.  It’s sometimes loud “cheer-up, cheerily, cheerily, cheer-up” song is a natural alarm clock, rousing one from a sound sleep as early as 3:30 am, well before sunrise. 

Its calls are a more rapid “tut-tut-tut.”  At times this is rather quiet as it is just hopping along in a lawn or park, but it can be very loud as a warning when it perceives a threat, such as from a cat.

Attracting Robins

Especially in the northern snow country of New York or New England, one can entice robins with various berry producing plants like currents, American or Japanese barberry, chokecherries, and Russian mulberry.  Having robins in the garden is beneficial in controlling beetles and grasshoppers. 

By mid-July the robins’ morning song is decreased in intensity and duration, and by August they are usually silent.  From early October, in the city or suburb, you may not see them for the rest of the winter.  This is because they move to mixed trees and shrubs that offer more protection and food sources of wild berries.  Whether they are seen or not over the winter, one is sure to welcome their song next March as the harbinger of spring. 

Sources:

Alsop, Fred J. III.  Smithsonian Handbooks: Birds of North America, New York:  DK Publishing, 2001.

Gilliard, E. Thomas.  Living Birds of the world, Doubleday, Garden City, NY: 1958

Mahnken, Jan.  The Backyard Bird-Lovers Guide, Storey Communications, 1998 ISBN 0-87596-804-X

Pearson, T. Gilbert, Editor.  Birds of America, 1936, Doubleday & Company.

Peterson, Roger Tory.  A Field Guide to the Birds, 1980.  (Eastern North America)

Web Sources

The Great American Bird Count:  Map of Robins in North America, February 2010

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Roger Chambers

Roger Chambers is a regsitered nurse, working in geriatric nursing for over 30 years. Since 1997 he has tended a large organic garden at his urban home. He has traveled widely in the US and Canada, Europe and Latin America.

He has had several articles in hobby publications on shortwave radio, and several poems in local arts journals and newspapers. An avid fan of birds and the Adirondack Mountains, at present he is largely focused on natural seasonal changes, holidays, and associated local fairs and festivals.

Roger resides in the beautiful Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York.

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