It hasn’t felt like spring lately with the cooler temperatures we’ve had and its still snowing out west! Yet, it is supposed to be spring and another one of the signs of spring is the American Robin.
I call it the American Robin (its proper name) because it closely resembles another bird of Europe, the European Robin. When Europeans first came to North America they saw a similar bird with a red/orange breast they were familiar with and simply called it by the name they knew.
The European Robin and American Robin are not related, they just look alike. The European Robin is part of the fly-catcher family while the American Robin is part of the thrush family.
The robin is a well-known bird here in Nebraska and probably one of the first bird species we learn to identify as kids. I’m sure you can remember back to your childhood and learning that these birds were called robin redbreasts.
The robin’s range encompasses most of North America. They are considered migratory, but you often see them here all winter. If you begin to study their migratory patterns it begins to get complicated. Food and weather are the key. If it is not a harsh winter, they tend to stay as long as they can find a steady food supply.
Before humans began creating food sources by planting various kinds of bushes and shrubbery that produced berries or putting out food for them, these birds would head south as cold weather approached and return when spring allowed their normal food sources to grow.
Robins are well suited to withstand even the cold temperatures of the Nebraska plains. Like many other species of birds, robins grow extra feathers for insulation. As the weather gets colder, robins sit in the roosting spot and fluff up their feathers. This creates a layered effect and traps more pockets of warm air next to the skin.
Robins are the bird you most likely see bouncing across your lawn or stalking through your garden or flower beds, when you are working in your yard, often with a grub or worm in its beak.
When spring is far enough along that you need to mow your yard, robins are usually there looking for whatever insects may have been disturbed by your mowing. You also see them following a rain when worms and other underground creatures are forced to come to the surface.
Robins are one of the first birds you hear singing in the morning. They are also one of the first birds of the spring to nest and lay eggs. Typically, their nesting season begins in April and may run though July.
The female builds the nest in layers. The outside layer is stiff grasses and small twigs. The interior of the next is then covered with a thin layer of mud and a then the next is lined with finer/softer grasses. Often bits of hair and soft materials are woven into this soft wall lining the nest. Once the eggs have been laid studies have shown that the female spends about 50 minutes out of every hour sitting on the nest and incubating the eggs.
Robins are not big seed eaters. They have difficulty eating or digesting hard seeds. They love berries of all kinds; juniper, chokecherry, mulberries, cherries, winterberries, gooseberries, cherries, blueberries, crabapples and well as wild and domestic grapes.
For protein to help with eggshell production and then for growths of the chicks, robins eat earthworms, snails, grubs, grasshoppers, beetles, spiders, crickets and any other manner of insect larvae. Not many people know that if a robin needs more protein, they will eat small snakes, frogs, lizards and small fish.
If all goes well, a young robin will begin to test its wings and will often jump from its nest. Have you ever seen a robin on the ground and trying to fly away from you but can only go a few feet? Jumping out of the nest and testing their wings is probably what happened! This is when the young birds are most vulnerable to their worst predator…domestic cats.
Like most birds, robins have an amazing life cycle and are fun and interesting to watch. It is no wonder that bird watching is such a popular to activity.