Sunday, June 17, 2012

American Robin

American Robin 
Turdus migratorius 

 "The song and call-notes of the Robin while well known to every one, are in reality understood by no one...It's notes express interrogation, suspicion, alarm, caution and it signals to it's companions to take wing." Frank M.Chapman 1914

As spring is turning to summer, I have been seeing many juvenile Robins flitting about, crying to be fed by their parents.  Although I have had little time for birding or photography, I am ever alert and watchful when I have a few minutes in one place.  On the way home today, a young male Robin must have recently hit a car and was lying dead in the road.  I picked it up to bury it, but used that time to get a closer look at our common yard bird.  Just a few generation of birders ago, the shotgun was the birder's main tool, not binoculars.  The bird in hand was the method of study.  Keeping that in mind I used this to get to know more of the details of the lovely bird before returning it to the earth.

As previously, a chance to study a bird, especially the common, leaves me with wanting to learn more.  Using the texts available I will summarize the information I read and hopefully help convey the information.

This medium sized song bird is roughly 10 inches long dark above, head and tail blacker on males, grayer on females and buffy red breast.  Juveniles like other thrushes are spotted on the breast.  Wingtips often dip below the tail.  These birds are much more common in the last 100 years than previous, as they do well in land areas cleared from human activity, thriving in parks, yards, as well as deciduous forests.  Up until the Federal Migratory Bird Law was enacted in 1914, this was a common hunted bird for food.  And until the outlawing of DDT, another population dive occurred due to poisoning from eating contaminated worms.

These birds are migratory arriving in their breeding areas males a few days ahead of females in late March, early April, often following the temperature line of 37 degrees F.  Territories are soon chosen and defended, older birds often returning the to same area as last year.  Male Robins get physical in territory fights often chasing and grappling with each other.  Territories are roughly 1/3 of an acre but often overlap.  Although very territorial, birds often will have communal roosting at night during fall and winter.

Nests are soon built in tree forks of mud, sticks and grasses primarily by the females. Robins breed in almost the entire continent of North America, laying 3-7 (usually 4) light blue eggs, sat upon by the female and  hatching within 12-14 days.  Babies are fed primarily insects by both parents and fledge in about 2 weeks.  Robins often have time for a 2nd brood in the same nest.  July and August are the common time for the annual  molt and behaviors at this time often include "Anting". It is felt the formic acid in ants may act as an anti-parasitic or a miticide protecting the birds skin and feathers.

Robins eat primarily berries, but in spring can be seen keenly watching (not listening) for movement and eating earthworms as well as insects.  They are main feeders of Eastern Red Cedars and are responsible for long range seed dispersal.  In October flocks start forming as they migrate southward, often seen in groups associated with Waxwings.
Babies almost ready to fledge
Feather details of the male robin found dead, show heavy feather wear from the previous year, very dark head and tail making it likely to be a male.
Close-up of foot
Close-up of head and bill
Ventral surface detail of wing
Detail of tail
detail dorsum of wing
1.  Birds of Eastern North America, Frank M. Chapman 1914
2.  Birds of Forest Yard & Thicket, John Eastman 1997
3.  Lives of North American Birds, Kenn Kaufman, 1996
4.  Pete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion, Pete Dunne 2006
5.  The Robin, The National Association of Audubon Societies Educational Leaflet No. 46, T. Gilbert Pearson 1914
6. The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior, Thrushes, John Kircher 2001


  1. Buen trabajo sobre el Petirrojo Americano,tanto en documentacion como en fotografia.Saludos

  2. Great post Dan. Interesting how much we miss on the most common of birds, and how much we don't really know.

  3. Love your wonderful photographs! You've got an amazing blog!

  4. Great post, Dan! And amazing photos, the closeups of the robin are awesome.

  5. Yikes! That shot of the foot is amazing...

  6. Wonderful, informative post, Dan! Robins are especially common around here but I knew little about them. Thank you for educating me a bit. I just love to watch robins splishin' and splashin' in the bird bath. They seem to get so much enjoyment out of bathing. Your photographs are wonderful! Love the sweet little ones.

  7. Thanks very much for all the kind comments

  8. You've turned this taken-for-granted-common-bird into a poetic masterpiece. Love the water flying around in the bird bath. You can feel it splishing and splashing!