Updated: Mar 9, 2021
You may have noticed that there are literally thousands of American Robins traveling through our area this winter! They’re everywhere – flying in large flocks overhead, feeding on lawns and park grounds by the hundreds, and filling the tops of trees foraging for berries. I love hearing their cheerful voices throughout the day.
We’re experiencing a migration event known as an irruption, when a species that is normally a short-distance migrant suddenly surges southward one year in incredibly large numbers. This is thought to be due to conditions that have drastically reduced the availability of food sources in their normal range.
Robins are omnivores, meaning that they eat both animal- and plant-based foods. Approximately 40% of their diet consists of invertebrates in the form of earthworms and insects, with the remaining 60% made up of a wide variety of fruits and berries. They tend to feed on more protein-rich food early in the day. For this reason, it’s common to see them patrolling lawns and park grounds in the morning, searching for worms and insects, and then foraging in the tops of trees later in the day.
If you’ve seen robins foraging in the grass, you’re probably familiar with their behavior of running for a few steps and then pausing, tilting their heads to the side as if listening intently. They actually forage by sight, so they’re really staring at the ground instead. American Robins are also attracted to feeders, preferring ground-feeding stations and platform feeders.
If you’d like to attract robins to your yard, try adding hulled sunflower seeds, peanut hearts, suet, mealworms, and fruit such as oranges and grape jelly.
While robins are known as “early birds” due to their arrival in the spring in most areas, that isn’t true in our area, where they are primarily winter visitors. However, the species also serves as an early warning of environmental problems in a habitat – namely, pesticides. Since they forage heavily on the ground, they are highly vulnerable to pesticide poisoning, dying off in large numbers from eating poisoned prey. If you want to provide a healthy habitat for birds, remember that insects are an important food source. You must have insects for a healthy ecosystem. Please don’t use pesticides!
I hope you find time to enjoy watching this beautiful species while it is abundant in our area. Don’t wait – they will be migrating northward before too long!
Contributed by Kristine Rivers, founder of Birding for Fun.