Birds of America – Everything You Need to Know About the American Robin

American RobinThe American Robin (with the glorious Latin name of Turdus migratorius) is also known as the North American Robin.

You may be familiar with the fat, bright, scarlet breasted European Robin which often appears on Christmas cards – but the American version is different altogether.  Here’s why…

Does it have a red breast?

Sometimes.  This is why it is called a Robin, after the European version.  However, the American Robin actually belongs to the thrush family.  Its breast varies in colour from a deep red to peach to peachy-orange.

Other plumage

The American Robin’s head varies too – from deep black to shades of gray.  It has white arches over its eyes and a white stripe which starts at its beak, continues above its eye and onto its head.  Ornithologists call this stripe a supercilium.  The bird has a white throat with black streaks.  The belly and area under the tail are white.  Its beak is mostly yellow with a dark tip which becomes more pronounced during the winter months.  It has brown legs and feet.

How do you tell the males from the females?

They are quite similar a difficult to distinguish from each other but the female does tend to be a little duller than the male.  She has a brownish tint to her head, has brown upperparts and is less brightly colored underneath.

Youngsters

Young birds are easier to spot.  The juvenile American Robin is paler than an adult and has dark spots on its breast, which makes it look more thrush-like.

How big is it?

It’s 23 – 28 centimeters (10–11 inches) in length.  The wingspan is from 31 – 41 centimeters (12.2–16 inches.  On average, it weighs in at a tiny 77 grams (2.7 ounces).

What do they eat?

Almost half of the bird’s diet is made up from grubs, grasshoppers and caterpillars.  It particularly loves worms and hunts them by sight, not sound as many other birds do.  This is what gives it the characteristic action of ‘running and stopping’.  Sadly, the American Robin digs for worms on suburban lawns and so it often falls prey to pesticide poisoning.

When am I most likely to see one?

Anywhere in North America, all year round.  In the winter months, it tends to stay south of the area from Florida down to Mexico and along the Pacific coastline.   In the summer months, they breed in Canada.  It’s the state bird of Connecticut, Michigan and Wisconsin so it’s a good bet that you’ll see one in any of those states.

Within those areas, American Robins favor gardens, parkland, golf courses (lots of lawn-like area for worms!) and fields.  They also like wooded areas and forests.

A Few Interesting Facts About the American Robin

American Robins are great breeders but they have to be, because their success rate isn’t very high.  Only around 40% of nests produce young and only 25% of those who do make it, don’t survive the laying season.  So, only half of the Robins that are alive in any given year will survive until the next.

The oldest known American Robin was a month short of 14 years old – but was a lucky exception to the rule.  On average, the entire bird population turns over every six years.

  • If you find an American Robin roost then you’re in for an amazing sight.  Some roosts hold as many as a quarter million birds!
  • During fall and winter when their favorite worms are scare, the birds eat a large amount of fruit.  It has been observed that if they only eat honeysuckle berries, they may become intoxicated!
  • In the 1964 movie ‘Mary Poppins’ (starring Julie Andrews) which is supposed to be set in London, the robin that lands on Mary’s finger during the song ‘A Spoonful of Sugar’, an American Robin, not a British one.
  • The comic book hero ‘Robin’, beloved sidekick of Batman, wasn’t inspired by a Robin at all.  His creator was actually inspired by an illustration of Robin Hood, drawn by the artist N. C. Wyeth.  However, in a later version, his ‘Mother’ gave him the name Robin because he was supposedly born on the first day of spring, when Robins traditionally herald the end of winter.  His red shirt is meant to emulate the Robin’s red breast.