“I just love to hear robins sing. When I hear robins sing, I know spring is here,” a neighbor told me recently.
Our American robin, as suggested in the book Birds of America, is perhaps the most common bird in North America. Certainly it’s one of the most widely distributed birds, and well know. From early spring into late fall there are robins from Mexico north into northern Canada and Alaska, as far north as trees grow, and from the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific.
Their winter range is from Maine, southern Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, across Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Colorado and north into Washington and Oregon. That range has been expanding northward. There are robins in northern Indiana year round now, even in the dead of winter. I’ve seen robins in flocks in woodlands in northern Indiana in midwinter in recent years.
Seeing a robin, or a flock of robins was once considered a sure sign of spring in mid-America. When I was young robins were called harbingers of spring. But seeing a robin in mid-America when there is snow on the ground is no longer a sign of spring. Robins singing early in the morning however, a dawn chorus of robins in late winter is a sign of spring. They call during the winter but they don’t sing.
Seeing robins on our lawns is another a sign of spring. Male robins fighting is yet another sign of spring, as are pairs of robins, one male and one female together.
It seems strange to me that such a common bird, such a well-known bird is often described incorrectly. It’s called red. Think of the common verse, “red, red robin.” But a robin isn’t red. It’s orange, and only on the breast. A male’s head is black, its back is gray, its wings and tail are black streaked with white. It has white streaks on its throat, a broken white ring around each eye and a patch of white underneath in front of its tail. A female is similar but gray on the head and duller orange on her breast.
Male robins are singing at dawn now and males and females are consorting on the ground off and on throughout the day. Soon they’ll be paired and each pair will have chosen a nest site and will be gathering mud and grass and building its cup-shaped nest.
Trees are the natural nest sites as they have adapted to feeding on our lawns, robins also often nest on our homes. I’ve seen robin nests on fire escapes and on light fixtures on porches that are not enclosed. I’ve seen robin nests on broad window sills.
The female shapes the nest to her body by turning around and around in it as its being built. When the nest is complete the female lays her eggs, usually four, occasionally five. The eggs are blue; robin’s egg blue, of course.
A month after incubation the eggs will hatch and the nestlings will leave the nest. Spot breasted and bob-tailed, the fledglings will follow the adults, learning how to get food for themselves. But after only a few days the young will be feeding themselves and the female will be laying eggs and starting a second brood.
When on the ground feeding a robin cocks its head and looks as if it’s listening. But it’s not. Its eyes, like the eyes of many birds, are on the sides of its head and when a robin cocks its head it’s getting a better look with the eye toward the ground.
Robins eat worms. They eat bugs too, and insect larvae. They also eat fruit, including apples which they peck and make very unappetizing. But the pests they eat, their presence on our lawns and their early morning singing more than makes up for the fruit they eat.