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.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.