For some people, nothing says spring quite like the arrival of the American Robin. Sometimes we feel certain that the robins bring the warm weather on their wings. As robins run about on our grassy lawns, we watch them pull plump earth worms out of the soil that have been brought closer to the surface by the higher water table due to late winter and early spring rains.
Although most people probably think of robins as a spring and summer bird, they are actually year round residents across much of the United States, including most of Washington State. Because of this, some of my fondest experiences in observing robins besides the early spring earthworm yanking scenes, are actually in the fall and winter, when we watch them feasting on the berries in the berry tree in our front yard. Because robins are in the thrush family, they are soft food eaters, meaning that they prefer insects, worms and berries as opposed to harder foods like seeds.
When the ground becomes too frozen in the winter time to retrieve many earthworms, the robins in our area resort to berry picking, and large flocks of them show up in our yard to feast on the available round red goodies. They also look for any opportunities to grab an earthworm as they can.
This past winter we had a short stretch where we were having temperatures in the teens and twenties. One such frozen day I dug a hole in our garden and let the pile of dirt lay. I noticed that after I left the area, a few robins descended on the freshly dug dirt to find some easy pickings. It was a joy to watch them pulling earthworms out of the soil, a snack they perhaps wouldn't have been able to gobble up if I hadn't dug up some of that frozen soil on the surface.
One of my most favorite things about robins is their song. The American Robin is a delightful singer and their song is something that we usually only get to enjoy in the spring and early summer. A couple of days ago, I was filling hummingbird feeders for our Rufous and Anna's friends when I noticed a robin sitting in the tree, singing his little heart out. This robin had a beautiful voice, though it was quieter than most of the robins I usually hear. Listen to his 'concert' was a delightful end to a busy day, especially since a singing robin is a good indicator that spring is here !
This time In Scope, I'm featuring the well beloved American Robin not just as a spring bird, but as a year round friend. Its my hope that all of us will be able to get to know these faithful friends just a little bit better, through all the seasons....
Did you know....
When you see a robin hunting earthworms on your lawn, they seem like they cock their head to listen for an earthworm beneath the surface, but they actually locate their meal by sight.
Robins are the largest thrush in North America.
Since robins are in the thrush family, they are related to species such as the Wood Thrush, Varied Thrush, Hermit and Swainson's Thrush as well as Mountain, Eastern and Western Bluebirds. In winter, I've often seen a pair of Varied Thrushes flocking together with their American Robin cousins.
In the winter, robins can seem more secretive, shy and thrush-like in their behaviors than their 'usual' friendly character in the spring and summer, when they frequent lawns, gardens and parks. In the northern states, overwintering robins may live in wetland areas containing cedar trees, where they can remain quite hidden and go largely unnoticed. It is only when they gather in large numbers that they are often seen in habitats like these.
Just like we may eat specific things at certain times of the day, like pancakes and eggs or cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and maybe some pot roast for dinner, robins also eat certain foods more at certain times of day than others. Earthworms are the most common 'breakfast' for robins. Their diet changes to include more fruit as it gets close to dinner time.
God created American Robin chicks to be altricial at hatching, meaning that they are solely dependent on their parents for nourishment and warmth, since they can neither forage for themselves and are mostly bare with just a small amount white down.
Gardening For and Attracting Robins
Although most people already have a grassy area that robins consider completely suitable for earthworm hunting, but if you want to make your yard and garden even more appealing, here are some tips for plant choices and feeder foods that your robins will love !
Most robins are not generally feeder visitors, but a few of these types of snacks might change their mind !
Berries (any kind, but bayberries, holly and hawthorn are particular favorites)
Grapes (fresh or dried ~ raisins)
Mealworms (dried or live)
Suet, chopped or blended into small chunks)
Gardening for Robins
When gardening for robins, keep in mind their love for berries and you'll be on the right track. Here are some of their favorite berry producing plants.
The American Robin's scientific name is Turdus migratorius. This medium sized bird is usually 9 - 11 inches long. Males and females look slightly different from one another. Their upperparts (back, wings, and tail) are brownish-gray in color. The male's head and tail is black, while the female's head and tail are brown gray like their back and wings. The male's underside is a vibrant rusty red. Females have a slightly lighter chest, often looking rusty orange to even tan instead of brick red. Juvenile robins have spotted chests, a nod to their thrush family tree.
Like other thrushes, robins have a beautiful song. Most people describe their song as 'caroling' and say it sounds like they're saying, "Cheer-up, cheerily, cheer-up, cheerily !" Robins also make a distinct chirping call.
The preferred habitat of the American Robin is usually in suburban areas, towns and yards with plenty of garden space and lawn. They also spend much of their time in open forests, farmlands and pastures.
The nest of the American Robin consists of a cup shaped nest made of mud, grass and sticks, with softer plant material as the lining, constructed in a tree or on a covered ledge or even in a windowsill. Robins may have more than one batch of chicks in a breeding season. Females lay 3 to 5 beautiful greenish-blue (aqua) eggs, hence the name 'robin's-egg-blue'.
Robins are year round residents across much of the United States. In a small portion of the most Northern part of the United States (mostly Alaska) and most of Canada (except British Colombia and Newfoundland), they may be only be present during the breeding season. In southern most states, robins may be only winter residents. On the whole, however, they spent all year in most of the Lower-48 and parts of Canada, including British Colombia and Newfoundland.
This month I've created an American Robin coloring page and Help the Robin Find the Earthworms activity. Both of these activities are available in free PDF format. To download, simply click on the button below, then print and enjoy !
In closing today, I wanted to share with you a beautiful scripture that robins remind me of every time I see one singing its beautiful melody from the tree tops. It is Psalm 104:12 NIV and it says,
The birds of the sky nest by the waters, they sing among the branches.
One of my two favorite writings about about robins is an old one written by Martin Luther. Its called the "Tribute to the Robin". The other is a poem written by an anonymous author. Its called, "The Secret" and was published in the 1947 Golden Book of Poetry. I've shared both before on the Bird Blog but I thought they were worth sharing again.
Tribute to the Robin
"I have a preacher that I love better than any other upon earth; it is my little tame robin, which preaches to me daily. I put his crumbs upon my windowsill, especially at night. He hops onto the sill when he wants his supply and takes as much as he desires to satisfy his need. From thens he always hops onto a little tree close by and lifts up his voice to God and sings his carol of praise and gratitude, tucks his little head under his wing and goes fast to sleep, and leaves tomorrow to look after itself. He is the best preacher that I have on earth."
We have a secret, just we three,
The robin, and I, and the sweet cherry tree;
The bird told the tree, and the tree told me,
And nobody knows it but just us three.
But of course the robin knows it best,
Because she built the...I shan't tell the rest;
And laid the four little...something in it....
I'm afraid I shall tell it every minute.
But if the tree and the robin don't peep,
I'll try my best the secret to keep;
Though I know when the little birds fly about
Then the whole secret will be out.
I hope you've enjoyed this up close look at one of our most familiar garden birds, the American Robin. Join me next month for an all new In Scope ! Happy Spring !
By, Jessi Wasell