Bird of the Week | American Robin | Attracting Robins to Your Yard
Until recently, when someone spoke of Robins, I pictured a mid-sized songbird, grayish-brown in color with an orange-red breast and belly. It wasn’t until I started following other “birders” on Instagram that I found out there is another Robin in the world. This not-so-new Robin is the European Robin! American Robins are actually named after the European Robin because of their red breast, and while both are part of the Thrush family, they are not closely related.
(Photo of European Robin courtesy of Wikipedia; American Robin- Karen Hance)
The European Robin is commonly found throughout Europe, Western Siberia and North Africa. Males and females are similar, with a brown backside and wings, a dark gray beak and an orange breast with a white belly outlined in light blue. They measure approximately 5-5 1/2 inches long (12.5-14 cm). Their diet consists of insects, earthworms, spiders, berries and fruit, and will eat seeds placed out on a table. To me, the European Robin reminds me of the Eastern Bluebird found in the United States, East of the Rocky Mountains. While the wings and backside colors are different, the size and shape, as well as the orange breast and white belly are very similar. (See below for a comparison.)
(Photo of European Robin and Eastern Bluebird courtesy of Wikipedia)
With the American Robin, males and females look similar, however, the male has a black head and a darker orange-red breast. The female, in comparison, has both a paler head and breast; they both have a yellow beak. Juveniles look very similar to the adults, once they’re big enough to leave the nest, except that they have a speckled breast. American Robins are quite a bit bigger than the European Robin, measuring 9-11 inches long (22-28 cm).
The majority of American Robins migrate to warmer climates in Winter. Migration locations vary but can be as far North as Southern Canada, or further South, such as Florida, Southern Texas, central Mexico and the Pacific Coast. A small percentage of Robins will not migrate, but instead, spend their Winters in low-lying swamps of New York State, eating leftover berries and insect eggs.
American Robins are one of the earliest birds to return in the Spring, causing much anticipation and excitement as we wait patiently for the “1st Robin of Spring”. Males tend to return first, followed about a week later by the females. They typically return during March here in Western New York, but can sometimes be seen as early as February in some areas. The Robins in our neighborhood returned in mid-March this year, however, they were completely caught off guard when we got our annual St Patrick’s Day snowstorm dropping 2 feet of snow on the ground. There was no way they were going to find any juicy worms for quite some time but luckily they managed to find enough food and survived.
Robins are also one of the first birds to lay eggs come Springtime, and one of the first birds to sing at dawn. You can often hear them singing their little hearts out at dusk as well; they have such a pretty song. Robins are commonly found in backyard gardens and yards, parks, golf courses, fields, woodlands and forests.
An American Robin’s diet is similar to that of the European Robin, consisting mainly of insects, earthworms, caterpillars, grubs and fruits and berries. The Robins in our yard love, love, love grape jelly and red grapes! We were putting grape jelly and grapes out for the Orioles and Catbirds when the Robins decided that they too were going to partake in this feast. They are so spoiled.
Robins will build their nests in a variety of places, preferring Spruce or Maple trees. You may also find their nests on porches, windowsills, under awnings, and even open-faced nesting boxes. We recently had a Robin build her nest on top of an outdoor loudspeaker at work this year. (See instructions at the end of this post on how you can build a nesting box.)
The female typically builds the nest while the male may occasionally help out. She builds the nest out of grasses and small twigs, mixed with mud and lined with more grass. It can take her 2-6 days to build her nest. It’s so amazing to see the finished nest and know that she built it with just her beak.
The female American Robin usually lays 3-4 pale blue eggs that she incubates for 12-14 days. Once the eggs hatch, both Mom and Dad share feeding time. We were recently lucky enough to have a Robin family build their nest in our Crabapple tree and we were able to watch them raise their young. They had 3 babies, whom I lovingly named Wynken, Blynken and Nod, after the popular children’s poem by Eugene Field. The Robin parents were amazing the way they kept those babies fed, constantly bringing food to those hungry mouths. Young Robins are fed mostly insects and worms, and they typically leave the nest after 14-16 days. Nod was the last one to leave the nest in our tree and had to be constantly coaxed by Mom to venture out. Dad tends to the fledglings while Mom gets the nest ready for brood number two.
Robins can be very aggressive when it comes to defending their nests and young. They constantly need to be on the lookout for predators such as Owls, Crows, Hawks and Blue Jays to name a few. House cats that are allowed to roam freely, as well as feral cats, are a huge problem for Robins and other songbirds; they are known to stalk and kill birds. If you have cats and let them roam outside, please consider keeping them inside and help save our songbirds.
Pesticides are another problem for Robins. When our lawns are sprayed with weed killer, the worms are thus poisoned. This, in turn, causes Robins to get sick and die after consuming the worms. Rather than having your whole lawn sprayed, why not consider spot spraying weeds? While it may not be the easiest task, try pulling weeds out by hand or try an organic weed killer of 2 cups white vinegar, 1/2 cup salt and a tiny bit of dish soap- mix well and spray weeds, being careful not to spray flowers or vegetables so you don’t accidentally kill them.
If you would like to see more Robins in your yard, consider planting trees and bushes that produce berries or have branches in which they can build nests. Some great berry producing trees and bushes are Serviceberry, Crabapple, Elderberry, Flowering Dogwood, Mountain Ash, Raspberries and more. Trees suitable for nesting are Spruce, Maple and Crabapple among others. Put up a nesting box on the side of your garage or in a tree. Put out some grape jelly, red grapes and even chopped up apples or mealworms.
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Here are the plans for your Robin Nesting Box