- Size: 10” long with 17” wingspan.
- Color: brownish back, red or orange breast, white feathers at rump and yellow bill.
- Habitat: forests, woods, parks and yards.
- When and where to observe: may be seen year-round in parks, golf courses, and residential properties.
As one of our most familiar birds, this member of the thrush family graces everyone’s lives with its good looks and flute-like melodies. Commonly considered a sign of spring and a regular summer resident, the American Robin actually is with us throughout the year, and can be seen gathering in large winter flocks.
Their familiar physical features are a grayish black, red or orange breast, long legs and a rather long tail, slender yellow bill, white feathers at the rump, and measuring 10” long with a 17” wingspan. Just as familiar are the birds’ foraging habits. With their head cocked towards the ground, they are not listening for worms but actually looking at them, along with snails and insects. Adults also eat fruit, and have a particular fondness for Eastern Red Cedar cones.
As a habitat generalist and adaptable to human-altered environments, American Robins are found in a wide range of habitats – tundra, forests, woods, parks, gardens and golf courses.
Males sing to defend territory and attract females with courtship displays that include spread wings and tail feathers, inflated throats, and shaking. Upon mating, both build nests of twigs and grass in a mud cup in shrubs, sometimes on the ground and commonly seen on structures. Traditionally thought to be monogamous, this is now in question.
Females lay roughly four, 1” long eggs in pale blue, and incubate them for 12-14 days. Young chicks are altricial, meaning they depend on the parents for warmth and to provide insects to eat. After 14-16 days, they are able to fly – keep an eye out for the fledglings with subtle brown and black spots on their red breasts, and remaining tufts of down on their feathers, giving them a somewhat unkempt appearance.
The workload of raising two or even three broods in a season is split between the sexes with the male caring for the first nest as the female incubates the second. They are busy, dedicated parents and good at defending their nests and chicks! Nevertheless, the open nest attracts predators like squirrels, skunks, raccoons, snakes, blue jays and crows.
Perhaps strange for us to consider today, this common backyard bird was once hunted for food and the use of DDT in the 1950s further threatened the species. Though pesticide use still is a concern and should be avoided, clearly the American Robin has rebounded to grace our parks and yards.
- All About Birds: American Robin by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, accessed on 1/16/09 at: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/BirdGuide/American_Robin.html.
- The Birder’s Handbook: A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds by Paul R. Ehrlich, David S. Dobkin, and Darryl Wheye, published in 1988 by Simon and Schuster.
- The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior edited by Chris Elphick, John B. Dunning, Jr., and David Allen Sibley, published 2001 by Chanticleer Press.
- The Sibley Guide to Birds by David Allen Sibley, published 2000 by Chanticleer Press.
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