Robins in Winter

Robin in winter © Lee Fortier
Robin in winter © Lee Fortier

Tradition places the appearance of the American robin as a harbinger of spring. This may be why each winter Mass Audubon receives hundreds of reports of robin sightings, sometimes numbering hundreds of birds.

Robins have been known to overwinter in Massachusetts since at least the early 1900s. The number of wintering robins depends largely on the severity of the weather and the abundance of food.

Most birds that regularly winter in New England are well suited to withstand cold temperatures. In the fall, many birds grow additional feathers for insulation. To keep warm while roosting, birds fluff their feathers. Because of the way their feathers are layered, this behavior traps pockets of warm air next to the skin.

During winter days, many birds feed almost continually, storing up fat that they burn off at night to keep warm. There isn't much one can feed robins in the winter. They’re very adept at finding their preferred food and rarely visit feeding stations. During severe weather, robins may eat bread, raisins, and pieces of apples placed on the ground, but it’s more likely that squirrels will find these treats first.