Wednesday, March 18, 2009

In the backyard... American Robin

American RobinAmerican Robin, Dawson Creek Park, Hillsboro, Oregon on 16 February 2009 by Greg Gillson.


It's mid March. There is frost on the ground and the eastern sky has not even a foregleam of the dawn to come. As I head out the door to work, though, I hear the melodic caroling refrains of the American Robin, beginning its spring breeding song.

The American Robin is a familiar yard bird in nearly all of North America. It breeds from the treeline at the Arctic Circle south throughout most of the US, except in southern Florida and some desert areas of Arizona and southern Texas. It breeds in the high mountains of northwestern Mexico. In winter it retreats from most of Canada and interior Alaska and winters throughout the lower 48 states and extends well into Mexico.

Locally, in the Pacific Northwest, the American Robin is one of the most widespread breeding birds, from the coast to high into the mountains, from wet valleys and forest clearings, throughout any water courses through the high desert of the Great Basin east of the Cascades. This species is common in lawns and meadows in towns or country settings. In winter, in the frozen and dry eastern Great Basin of Oregon and Washington, fewer birds remain. Large flocks migrate through lowlands west of the Cascades in January and February, as the northern birds wintering in the south head back to Alaska and Canada.

Robins are common in yards and gardens where they hop on the ground and feed on earthworms. They also eat fruit, such as holly berries and the berries of trees such as hawthorn. They are attracted to backyards by water features where they like to drink and bathe. Early risers, they begin singing well before dawn and often sing well into the evening, April through June. They weave a grass nest in the crotch of a low tree or tall bush, or sometimes place their nests on corners of buildings, carports, or porches. American Robins may raise up to three batches of nestlings in a single season--especially if the first brood fails (dies).

The brick red breast and gray-brown back is familiar to most people. The white and black streaked throat and white lower belly and undertail add to the field marks. However, similar species in the West include the Varied Thrush, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Spotted Towhee.

For more information, read about this species in the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology's online field guide All About Birds.


  1. Our fresh Christmas did great through the winter so we left it hanging on our front door. About 3 to 4 weeks ago I noticed activities of a robin around the wreath. I thought it was picking up tweaks to build its nest until later I found out that it was actually building a nest on the Wreath. There were 3 eggs in the nest and the mother bird has been with them at times... We restrained from using our front door but. The garage door is located in the front of the house. Every time the garage door opens and closes it still alarms the bird and it flies away. With the bird being gone so often and at times for a prolonged period of time would the eggs hatch? I thought about bringing the nest with the wreath to show my daughter's kindergarten class. I hesitated because she hasn't given up her eggs yet. Sound pretty silly questions but please educate me on this. Thank you!

    A mom in Olympia, WA

  2. Robins are quite tolerant of human disturbance. Once the eggs are laid the mother bird will be less likely to leave the nest. You are correct, though, that the eggs may fail if they cool off too much while the adults are flushed away from their nest. Robins may attempt to renest up to 3 times in a season. It is their way of assuring offspring as, on average, only 2 nestlings live to adulthood to replace the parents every 4-6 years or so--the average life span of an adult bird.

    One thing to keep in mind, though. It is illegal to possess the nest, eggs, feathers, or body of birds in the US without a license. Thus, taking the old nest to your child's school, while a good nature lesson is a bad citizen lesson!

    Enjoy the birds!