American Robin

Bird of the Month: American Robin

By Andy McCormick

PC: Mick Thompson (American Robin)

PC: Mick Thompson (American Robin)

Scientific Name: Turdus migratorius

Length 10 in

Wingspan 17 in

Weight 2.7 oz

AOU Band code AMRO

Cheerily cheery cheerily cheery.  Cheerily cheer-up cheerily cheerio.  The morning song of the Robin is our avian alarm clock that begins just before dawn.  Now that we may be leaving our windows open a bit at night we become more aware of our neighborhood robin which typically sings from the same perch every morning.  Then on summer evenings we can also enjoy the robin’s evening song as dusk arrives.  For good reason the American Robin is one of our most beloved birds.  It is often the first bird children learn to identify as “Robin Red-Breast” and soon they also learn the color “Robin’s egg blue.”  This gregarious bird of our lawns and shrubs seeks earthworms and other invertebrates and gathers in large flocks in search of berries in the winter.   Other berry-eating birds such as waxwings and other thrushes can sometimes be found mixed in these flocks as they swoop in on Cotoneaster, Hawthorn and Juniper in the winter.

The American Robin is the only North American breeding species in the very large genus Turdus which worldwide has 66 species.  Turdus is Latin for thrush and migratorius relates to its migratory behavior.  American explains its natural range, and robin is thought to be a diminutive of the English name Robert, the English pet name for the bird (Holloway, 2003).  The red breast of the robin varies from deep, rich crimson to a peachy orange with males often darker.  The head also varies along with the breast from black to a dark gray.  There are white arcs above and below the eye.  The bill is yellow and the throat is streaked black and white.  The belly and undertail coverts are white.  The back is gray and the tail is black with white corners.   A western subspecies Turdus  migratorius caurinus breeds on the Olympic Peninsula and Vancouver Island and  is smaller and darker with only a narrow white tipping on their outer tail feathers.  The juvenile (pictured) is spotted dark below and is overall gray with the tips of white wing coverts visible.  It can sometimes seem a little surprising to see spotted thrushes on the lawn until one realizes they are juvenile robins.

The Robin is extremely adaptable and can nest anywhere from your backyard to almost any kind of shrubby or wooded area.  “Following the establishment of territories, thrushes form strong pair bonds that last throughout the breeding season usually for two broods” (Sibley, 2001).  The robin’s nest is a deep cup built with grasses and mud and holds 3 – 4 eggs, which are incubated for about two weeks.  In another two weeks the birds will fledge.  The eggshell color is an exquisite light blue that becomes glossy during incubation.  Both parents are aggressive in defending the nest and both also feed the young birds.  In contrast to other brown thrushes robins have benefitted from forest fragmentation due to agricultural development and the creation of subdivisions and their populations are doing very well.