Often believed to be the “first bird of spring,” the American robin is actually one of the most common and familiar backyard birds all year long. With distinct colors and interesting behavior, these members of the Turdidae bird family are one of the most beloved wild birds, and they are recognized as the state birds of Connecticut, Michigan, and Wisconsin. This fact sheet explores all that makes American robins distinctive and interesting.
- Scientific Name: Turdus migratorius
- Common Name: American Robin, Robin Red Breast, Robin
- Lifespan: 1-3 years
- Size: 10 inches
- Weight: 2.5-3 ounces
- Wingspan: 15-16 inches
- Conservation Status: Least concern
American Robin Identification
These thrushes have a long, straight, yellow bill with a slight hook at the tip, and an upright posture with a deep belly and classic passerine shape. Genders are similar though females can appear fainter or less colorful. The back is gray or brown-gray and the chest and abdomen are red or red-orange. The lower abdomen and undertail coverts are white with some blurry black or gray spotting under the tail. The head is dark gray on females and black on males, and the black eye is surrounded by a broken white eye ring. The white throat has distinct black stripes but the chin is plain. The legs and feet are dark.
Juveniles look similar to adults but show pale whitish spotting or short streaks on the upperparts and gray or gray-black spotting on the underparts. These indistinct markings help camouflage the young birds until they can better care for themselves, and within a few weeks after leaving the nest, the spots will fade.
The robin’s song is familiar to many birders with its high, varied pitch warble. A low “hip-hip-hip” call is also frequently used. American robins are frequent contributors to the dawn chorus in spring and early summer and will sing even before the sun rises as they seek out mates and advertise their mating readiness.
American Robin Habitat and Distribution
American robins are one of the most common backyard birds in North America. They can be found throughout the continental United States and central Mexico year-round in urban, suburban, and forest habitats. American robins are frequently found in open areas, including gardens, parks, yards, and golf courses.
While these birds will stay year-round where food sources are abundant, populations in southern Canada and the extreme southern United States do migrate seasonally. In general, however, American robins only migrate as far as necessary to meet their needs, so their migration extent can vary from year to year. In a mild year, they may migrate very little, or not at all.
During the breeding season, American robins are largely solitary or may stay 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 glass windows or chrome car bumpers. While feeding, robins run forward before pausing and turning their heads to look for worms and insects with their keen eyesight.
Diet and Feeding
These are omnivorous birds that eat a wide range of foods. While robins are best known for their worm-loving appetite, they also eat many other types of insects. In winter, when insects are absent from many areas, they will switch to eating fruits, berries, and nuts. American robins will even visit feeders to snack on suet, particularly during cold snaps when the extra fat and calories are necessary to maintain adequate body heat.
The American robin's nest is a deep, sturdy cup of twigs, grasses, and mud, usually positioned in the crotch of a tree or a branch fork, though these birds will also readily use nesting shelves. They may also nest in the crooks of gutter downspouts, on top of sheltered birdhouses, or in other unusual locations. Nests are generally positioned in sheltered areas with cover from rain.
Eggs and Young
Pairs of robins will produce 2-3 broods of 3-8 pale blue eggs each during their annual breeding season. Multiple broods are more likely for southern populations where the climate is more favorable for a long reproductive season. The female parent does the majority of the incubation for 12-14 days, and she is also responsible for most of the feeding during the 14-16 days of the nestling stage before juvenile birds are ready to leave the nest.
American Robin Conservation
American robins are not considered threatened or endangered, and they are very adaptable to areas under development, such as suburban communities and housing developments. Overuse of pesticides can be hazardous to robins, however, not only by eliminating the food they need but by directly poisoning these ground-feeding birds. Feral cats and outdoor pets are also a grave threat to American robins, especially juvenile birds in suburban areas.
Tips for Backyard Birders
American robins readily visit backyards, often foraging for worms and insects in the grass. Birders can make their yards more attractive to robins by providing mealworms, fruit, or jelly in platform or ground feeders. Robins are especially attracted to bird baths and dust bath areas and may visit open sunny spots for sunbathing. Bird-friendly landscaping and fruit trees such as crabapples and cherries will also attract robins, and trimming grass slightly shorter will make the yard more attractive to these worm-hunting birds.
How to Find This Bird
Because they are so common and widespread, American robins are not difficult to find. Watch for these birds pausing and running across grassy areas such as athletic fields, golf courses, and school playgrounds. They may perch on fences and posts, and will often be found in orchards or berry patches.
American Robins in Culture
Not only is the American robin an honored state bird in Connecticut, Michigan, and Wisconsin, but these birds are also popular spring symbols. Because they stay in many areas through the winter and will migrate early when the first signs of spring are barely noticeable, seeing the first American robin is a welcome indication that spring is on the way for many people.
Explore More Species in This Family
The Turdidae bird family includes more than 175 species, including different thrushes, bluebirds, and solitaires. Birders interested in learning more about related birds should investigate the eastern bluebird, as well as take steps to attract more thrushes to their yard. Another similar bird, though in a different family, is the eastern towhee, and learning more about that bird can help birders better recognize American robins and just how different they can be.
Check out all our detailed bird profiles to learn even more about all your favorite birds!