About Robins

Robin © Richard Alvarnaz
Robin © Richard Alvarnaz

American robins are among the most familiar feathered neighbors to visit yard and garden. Our largest thrush is also unquestionably our most successful, breeding from Berkshire to Nantucket and everywhere in between. Overall, the number of robins in Massachusetts has increased greatly throughout this century. Suburban landscapes are very beneficial to robins, as both ornamental plantings and open green lawns provide an abundance of feeding and nesting habitat. 

Robins in Winter

Many backyard birders are surprised to see this herald of spring hopping about in the depths of winter. Although many of our robins do migrate (hence the species name migratorius), an increasing number of these red-breasted songsters are passing the winter in Massachusetts each year. Find out how robins survive the cold months

Identification

Both males and females are grey above and orange to brick-red below, and are of medium size (about 10” long). Their bills are yellow, and when a robin flies, it shows two small white tips at the corners of its dark tail. Very young robins will show a speckled breast rather than the adult red.

Behavior

Robins do most of their feeding and foraging on the ground, where they will run or hop for several short steps and then often assume an erect posture, always on the lookout for possible danger. During winter and migration especially, robins often travel in flocks, so it’s not unusual to see a dozen or more birds foraging on the same lawn or perching in the same tree. 

Life Cycle

Robin nests are commonly built in trees and shrubs, reportedly as high as 70 feet but usually 10 to 25 feet. A preference for coniferous sites is evident early in the season. Robins occasionally nest on porches, sheltered windowsills, and the eaves of buildings, and artificial nesting shelves are sometimes accepted. Rarely, nests may be found in the crevices of natural cliffs or boulders, in stone walls, and even on the ground. 

Food

During the warm months, a robin with an earthworm in its beak is a familiar sight. In addition to worms, they eat many insects and ground-dwelling larvae, as well as caterpillars, grasshoppers, and beetles. 

In winter, robins are nomadic. They fly in flocks and eat the berries of trees and shrubs that hold their fruit through the winter, including red cedar, American holly, hawthorn, and certain dogwood and crab apple species. As they deplete the food sources in one location, they move on in search of a new supply. 

Habitat and Range

In general, the nesting, or summer range of robins extends from the tree limit in northern North America to southern Mexico, and the winter range covers southern Canada to Guatemala. Although many robins do spend the winter in Massachusetts, these are not necessarily the same robins that we see here in summer. It’s likely that robins wintering in Massachusetts migrate here from northern New England or Canada. Most of the robins that breed in Massachusetts migrate to the southern states with the onset of cold weather in the fall. Learn more about robins in winter.

Song

The territorial song of the robin—a loud and continuous rich caroling, rising and falling in pitch and usually described as cheerily-cheerily-cheerily-cheerrio—is first heard on warm mornings in late March and early April.

Dawn and dusk choruses reach a peak in late April but continue, gradually diminishing in intensity, through mid-July. The familiar call notes of the robin, often rendered kwee-kwee-kuk-kuk-kuk or sometimes puck-kuk-kuk-kuk, are uttered with emphatic jerks of the tail and at varying speeds and intensity of delivery, depending on the bird’s emotional state. The flight call, a thin see-lip, may be heard at any time of the year.