American Robin: Dr J Murray Speirs

American Robin

The American Robin is probably our best known Ontario bird, the harbinger of spring to most people (though many spend the winter with us where fruits remain on the trees). It is a great consumer of worms and insects in our gardens during the summer and it nests on our houses and in trees and shrubs nearby. We tend to think of robins as strongly territorial birds, intolerant of other robins in their chosen acre, but every night the males go off to a chosen roost where hundreds may gather to spend the night in close proximity. In the southern USA where most of our robins go for the winter, such roosts may contain over a million birds, males and females, young and old. Here they are highly social birds, going about in great flocks, but shy of people. They may be driven far south by outbursts of polar air or come part way north again when the tropical air prevails. In spite of much study there are still many things to learn about robins, e.g. nobody seems to know in any detail how long the young retain their spotted plumage!

American Robin

IDENTIFICATION: Adults have reddish breasts, slaty backs, blackish heads, prominent white eye rings, a white throat with blackish stripes and white spots terminating the outer tail feathers. Males generally have darker rufous breasts than females, but some (older?) females are as richly coloured as males. The young have a spotted plumage, like other young thrushes. The well known carolling song does not seem to have much territorial significance (it is often heard at roosts and out of the breeding season): the territorial song is a high-pitched “whisper song” and the “peep-toop-toop” given from roof top and tree tops when the birds arrive in spring may be territorial. A loud “teep-teep-teep” announces the presence of cats and other potential predators and a lisping “tsi-ip” precede flight.

American robin (juvenile)

Robins on Ice Wilket Creek Park (photo: Judy-Ann Cazemier)

Dr J Murray Speirs

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