Do robins really signal spring?


Two weeks ago I overheard two people in the grocery store commenting that spring must be here since they saw so many robins in their yards. When I was a kid the first robin of the year was always a welcome sight. I enjoyed watching them hop around and cock their heads in search of worms. Their eyesight is exceptional.
One thing people may not realize is that robins live here year-round. In New England and the upper Midwest they migrate and live there only in spring, summer and fall. In eastern North Carolina we don’t always see them in winter because we’re used to watching them pulling worms out of the ground in open areas. Earthworms are probably their favorite food, but when the ground is frozen they can adapt.
In winter they often resort to eating fruit still clinging to trees or on the ground. They don’t eat seeds and they know that fruit grows on trees and shrubs, so they seldom visit bird feeders. During winter they don’t congregate in open areas much. Most of their food is in wooded areas, so we seldom see them and many people assume they must have migrated. If anything, they are slightly more abundant here in winter than summer.
When worms are active on  warm winter days the robins will find them. Just because we see bunches of these reddish orange breasted birds doesn’t mean winter is over, at least not around here.
During the breeding season, we usually spot robins singly or in pairs. During the winter, birds may congregate in large flocks. Male robins are very territorial near their nests and feeding areas and will chase away other robins or even attack their own reflections in windows. Cardinals do this too.
Pairs of robins usually raise two or three broods per year. Females lay three to five pale blue eggs before setting them and females are the primary incubators. Eggs will hatch in 12-14 days. Females also are the primary caregivers for the young hatchlings. Chicks are old enough to leave the nest in about three weeks. Some take a little longer.
Robins often make their nests near people. If you find an abandoned nest with eggs or find eggs on the ground leave them alone. You are only setting yourself up for failure. The eggs are probably either infertile or damaged. Your chances of successfully incubating them are nearly zero. Furthermore, if you place any into another nest the mother will most certainly abandon them all. You won’t trick her.
You will also have little chance of success trying to raise what you think may be abandoned baby chicks. Don’t disturb them. The chicks might respond to you and you might think you’re having success, but eventually the hatchlings will die and you’ll be disappointed. It’s best to let robins take care of their own babies.
Spotting robins this time of year can raise one’s spirits, especially in light of this harsher than average winter. The last week and a half has been brutal. Around here though, seeing a bunch of them has nothing to do with spring.

Bright sun brings robins into the open even if it's only 15 degrees fahrenheit

Bright sun brings robins into the open even if it’s only 15 degrees fahrenheit

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com) and frequently publish articles in several other newspapers in northeastern North Carolina. I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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2 Responses to Do robins really signal spring?

  1. joanneeddy says:

    Hi Ted, Interesting to read this. I saw my first robin walking on the ice on Wednesday and thought he had gotten here way too early for spring! I never knew he’d been here all along. Love your posts as always!

  2. tedmanzer says:

    I took that picture this morning about 9. It looked like a nice day but it was cold!

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