The Robins of Winter

If someone starts talking about spring, what is the first bird that pops into your head? Did you say the American Robin? Most people do. Robins are ubiquitous in springtime. They run in short spurts, then show off their perfect posture while they look for a meal. In spring we enjoy their cheery songs from high in the tree tops. But most people don’t realize that a lot of robins stick around in the winter too, although they are not as obvious.

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Male American Robin (Wikimedia Commons/Kristofvt)

Once the weather gets cooler our spring visitors, such as warblers, will migrate south for the winter. Many robins do too, but not everyone leaves. Robins will focus on eating a lot of invertebrates and insects in the spring, but switch to berries and other fruits in the winter. So how does a robin decide to stay or migrate?

It depends more on food sources than the cold temperature. A robin may stick around its breeding range because there is fruit around for it to eat. In the spring we see robins all around fields and lawns because they are out looking for earthworms. Remember the previous blog about winter flocks? We said one of the reasons birds form big flocks is to help each other find food. Since the ground is not thawed out in winter, American Robins will flock together and hang out in more wooded areas looking for fruit. This is why you don’t see them as often in the winter, but they are still around.  According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s page about robins, in the winter some areas may see flocks of around a quarter-million birds! (and you thought they all disappeared!)

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A massive flock of American Robins in Washington (Image by Carl Kjellstrand via birdnote.org)

I recently heard robins singing their spring songs even though it’s the middle of winter. Were they confused? Well, male robins sing at the beginning of the spring to mark their territories. If you hear them singing the spring song now, it is likely because of raging hormones. Breeding season is approaching pretty quickly. However, their songs will be in full force once spring really does arrive. At that point the large flocks will disband.

So here’s another question: is that robin singing in your yard during the spring the same robin as last year? It’s very likely that it is. Like us, birds are also creatures of habit. Many birds will return to the same areas to breed each spring.

Throughout the last few winters I’ve noticed a lot of large robin flocks around my area. I saw a flock hanging around my school today which inspired me to write about this topic. Sometimes I’ll see them when I’m hiking in forests or even when I’m in parking lots. Are you seeing flock of robins in your area this winter?

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Author: BirdNation

I am an avid birder, teacher, and nature lover. I primarily birdwatch throughout New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania.

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