The American Robin

Robins are a very controversial bird in my household. My husband is from the United Kingdom and to him a Robin is a very different bird. The Robin Red Breast of Europe is a much smaller bird than the American Robin, measuring about the same size as a Chickadee. They are tiny and cute and they are the United Kingdom’s unofficial Christmas card bird, much like Cardinals are on many holiday cards in the United States. For more information and images of a European Robin, you can visit: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/robin/

Since we live in America, we will ignore my husband’s protests that this huge, gawky bird ISN’T a “real” Robin, and now focus on the American Robin in all its glory. As Apollo is the bringer of the sun, the Robin is given credit for being the bringer of Spring each year. When you start to see Robins, winter is nearly over. This is particularly funny as in most of the United States at least some of the Robin population doesn’t migrate. Others, particular those living in Canada, do migrate South toward Central America.

The American Robin is actually in the Thrush family. He stands much taller than his European doppelganger, between nine and eleven inches. Robins are commonly seen in parks, forests and backyards, although they are not seed eaters so they will not be attracted to most feeders. Their diet is mostly worms and other invertebrates with some berries or fruit. One of their many well-known poses is to stand still and cock their heads. This cocking of the head is usually attributed to listening for worm vibrations. Actually their eyes are set too far back in their heads and they must turn their heads at a cocked angle to see. They don’t listen for their prey at all.

Some people might disagree, but you can tell the males and females apart. Both have the tell-tale red/orange chest but the male’s chest is much fuller and more vibrant. The male has a gray back and dark gray/black cap on his head. Look for the white around his eye and the streaks of white on his neck. The female is a bit duller all around and her head is lighter gray. Besides their childish behavior, the juveniles are easily distinguished by their speckled chest, usually framed by some orangy feathers around the edge.

Robins usually have two broods, of three to five eggs. These eggs are almost as familiar to us as the Robin itself, a light blue egg sometimes with brown speckles. They are in fact the origin of the color “Robin’s Egg Blue.” Perhaps they and their color are so familiar to us because their hatched remnants can often be found in yards and on porches. In nature Robins typically build their mud and grass lined nests in trees or shrubs. However, they also like porch or roof beams, and exposed foundations, making them a common, if uninvited tenant of human dwellings. This can at times prove difficult as they are very territorial. When protecting their nest they know no fear and have been known to swoop down out of their nests with a single warning cry, not unlike a plane appearing out of the clouds in a WWII movie. My parents had a Robin settle in their porch one summer. After the eggs were laid she (females usually incubate while the males feed the first set of hatchlings) was very touchy. My father is a really early riser, and likes to have his coffee on the porch in the fresh air. That summer, forever marked as the summer of the Robin in my mind, was a summer of early mornings for all of us, as the Robin dive-bombed at my father almost every morning, usually resulting in spilled coffee and a string of obscenities piercing the pure morning stillness. I will give him credit. He let her hatch and raiser her babies before he removed the nest. But you can be sure, no nest of any kind has been allowed in that particular corner since. Any sign of nesting activity and up the ladder he goes.

One thought on “The American Robin

  1. A little bit of trivia – The robin depicted ‘…feathering his nest…” in the song ‘A Spoonful of Sugar’ from the original Mary Poppins film is actually an American robin, despite the film being set in London.

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