American robin

American robin (Turdus migratorius).

The American robin is a thrush. It has been said that the American robin was given the common name of robin by English settlers, who identified it with the English robin, which also has a red breast–robin redbreast. The English robin, a subspecies of the European robin (Erithacus rubella), is not a thrush at all but an Old World flycatcher. The English verses that I wrote about in the post February makes me shiver are about English robins, of course–which I hadn’t taken into account until now. Perhaps English robins like living in barns. Hmmm.

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A big old American robin appeared near the feeders on March 16. The minute I saw him, I ran to check the temp, remembering the 37° isotherm theory regarding the robin’s return. Guess what the temp was. It was 37° F. That’s almost too good to be true.

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Wondering how old this old robin might be, I checked online and found the American Robin site on learner.org.

Most robins die in their first year. The ones who survive the first year may live for 5 or 6 years. The longest living banded robin recorded survived 13 years and 11 months.

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In spring and summer, robins eat worms and insects. When winter comes, they switch to fruits and berries. This old robin may be looking for worms, but I didn’t see him finding any. One explanation of the 37° isotherm theory is that earthworms migrate vertically, come to the surface in other words, when the temp reaches 37° F., signaling robins to switch from fruit and berries to worms. Makes sense.

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There is a common misconception that robins tilt their heads in such a characteristic fashion in order to hear worms. Although they do have a superior sense of hearing, they are probably looking not listening, perhaps for predators before they turn their attention to pulling worms out of the soil.

According to the American Robin website, the migration of robins is complicated. They will probably migrate in flocks although they are known to migrate alone. They don’t return to the same geographical areas each year but seem to go wherever there’s food. Although we usually think of robins flying low, they may fly so high that we don’t notice their flight. They can travel 100 to 200 miles per day. They are complete migrators, going south and returning. Except that some robins may not migrate at all. It’s complicated.

During breeding season in spring and summer, robins are territorial. They are eating worms and insects alone or in pairs in our gardens. This is the robin behavior with which most of us are familiar. In winter, they tend to join flocks, eat fruits and berries, and migrate. Those robins who stay retreat to the shelter of thicker brush and shrubs where fruits and berries are more abundant, making them less noticeable to casual observers. Bitter fruits, such as the crabapple, become more palatable in winter, and robins may go to such sources for food in winter.

Male robins come back earlier than females. Female robins are a lighter gray than males and have a gray head compared to a male’s nearly black head. This according to Birds of New Jersey.

On a walk in a nearby park with Daisy, I saw a small flock of robins on 2 different days recently, the latest sighting on March 16. The temp on both days was in the low 40s. The robins were concentrated around two small crabapples trees. The snow had melted around the trees although it still covered parts of the small park. Other thick trees and shrubs border the park and offer good shelter. It’s a perfect spot for robins.

I’ve often wondered why the little crabapples remained untouched on the trees and the ground under them through the fall and winter. The idea that it takes winter to mellow the crabapples into a palatable state for birds may be the answer.

The robins were busy with the crabapples, but they were also in evidence in the open field below the little trees. I was delighted to see one pulling a large earthworm from the ground and running off with the worm in its mouth. I did not get a photo of this, drat, so you will have to take my word for it.

Robins are early breeders and often raise as many as three broods each year. Males and females work together to raise the fledglings, who are highly susceptible to predators. More about this as the seasons progress.

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