Robins Revisited

American robins one of the most common in the United States. We often associate the word “common” with ordinary, yet these birds are anything but. Which is why I’m writing about robins again.

Photo credit – Martin

For starters, American robins are often considered a sign of spring and at this time of year a welcome one. But in the lower 48 states, robins are actually year-round residents. The migration patterns of robins are complex and vary depending on the bird. Some have been known to migrate thousands of miles, while others stay within a 60 mile range year round (even among individuals living as far north as Ontario). Some even move north in the winter. Not only that, but banding studies have shown that some birds may migrate one winter but not the next. One reason we do not see robins as often in the winter (and thus associate them with spring) is that they tend to move out of open yards or other areas, and into more forested areas for shelter. This, for the record, is a simplified version of what we know about robins’ migration habits and scientists are still unraveling the mystery.

Robins are also part engineer, part architect, part artist. Of course, it’s the female who builds the nests. The male do take part, though, helping her gather materials. To build the cup-shaped nest, robins use grasses, twigs, and other plant material. They’ve also been known to use feathers, roots, flower petals, moss, and even paper for their nests. The nest is reinforced with mud which works like cement. Construction often takes place after it rains because soft mud is readily available. Yet studies have shown that these birds are resourceful in dry years. The birds have been observed taking nesting material or dry dirt to water sources, including birdbaths, to soak before returning to the building site. Once complete (after 2-6 days of construction), these sturdy nests are 6-8 inches wide, and 3-6 inches deep and the female lines the nest with soft, fine materials.

These extraordinary birds can raise 2-3 broods each season. And for every new brood, they usually build a new nest. Perhaps, if you’re lucky, you’ll have robins nesting near you soon!