About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

What in the World are the Robins Still Doing Here?

Why am I seeing robins lately (over the last week) right after we had our big 18 inch snowfall (very unusual for Maryland). I thought they had all gone South for the winter. I hadn't seen any for weeks, and then all of a sudden I saw several of them over a week's time. A few years ago I also saw a bunch of robins after a snowfall - I guessed they were migrating, but I thought they had already left a long time ago. And what can they eat when the ground is covered in snow? Thanks! Greenbelt, MD

The America Robin (Turdus migratorius) does migrate but the birds that summer in Canada may migrate to parts of Maryland and mid-Michigan (where I live) and think that’s far enough. If you look at the range map you’ll see that there are winter populations of Robins in most states year round. Robins are surprisingly hardy birds, capable of surviving temperatures well below zero. But that doesn’t mean sightings are common.

After nesting season has ended, they usually form large nomadic groups that roost at night in the woods. Their diet changes from mostly worms and insects to fruit, nuts and berries. I’ve seen them devouring our crab apples, Mountain Ash tree berries, and sometimes under my feeders looking for nuts. They also appreciate open water in the winter. If you have a pond or heated birdbath they may show up for afternoon drinks.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about birds, but there is a way to help personally. The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is an annual four-day event in February that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent and in Hawaii.[1] Anyone can participate and I’ll be posting more information on our Wild Birds Unlimited website and blog in the future.

From the past bird counts, researchers at Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology have an unprecedented wealth of data to create a snapshot of bird distribution and the effects of weather. BirdScope magazine wrote “food availability may be the primary factor influencing some species’ winter ranges, but snow cover may also play a role. Results from the GBBC and other continent-wide monitoring projects show that American Robins overwinter across North America in a patchy mosaic, primarily reflecting their opportunity to forage on fruits and berries. When snow cover is high and food is difficult to find, American Robins move farther south. When snow cover is low and food is more readily available, they seem to overwinter in northern locales in higher numbers.” [2]

I hope that helped. Write back any time. You can send questions to my e-mail at bloubird@gmail.com, visit our web page at http://lansing.wbu.com/, check out our daily blog at http://lansingwbu.blogspot.com/, keep up with what I'm doing from twitter at http://twitter.com/birdsunlimited, and become a fan of our Wild Birds Unlimited Mid-Michigan Facebook page at http://tiny.cc/QmIv5. There is also a Wild Birds Unlimited store in Gambrills, Maryland if you need some more personal help with your backyard bird feeding. In the mean time, stay warm!

References:
1. Wild Birds Unlimited helps sponsor the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/

12 comments:

Vetsy said...

wonderful information about the robins. I haven't seen any yet in my neck of the woods.

I was very surprised to learn that Robins cold survive Temps below Zero.. Wow"

Wild Birds Unlimited Mid-Michigan said...

I know, it's surprising any bird would choose to live here in the winter. I love the four seasons of Michigan but I don't have to survive outside.

donna said...

i live in berea,ohio. we had lots of robins in the spring and june now it is aug first and i haven,t seen any for weeks, we had them in our yard and bird bath everyday and now there isn,rt any why? donna

Wild Birds Unlimited Mid-Michigan said...

We have a lot of American Robins too. When I’m out fussing in the garden, robins always seem so friendly and interested in what I’m doing. But every year in late summer and fall, robins leave the areas where they've raised their young and switch their diet from mostly earthworms and insects to fruit, nuts and berries.

The males are no longer territorial once nesting season is over. The robins will now gather to forage for food and roost together at night. Take a walk in the woods and you’ll probably see large flocks of robins, gathering fruit under trees.

If food is abundant, some robin flocks may remain in Ohio throughout the winter. Robins are surprisingly hardy birds, capable of surviving temperatures well below zero. But most robins end up in the central and southern states from November until late March. I’m afraid that this is just another sign of the end of summer.

CarolNH said...

Over the last several winters here in NH, I have had fairly large flocks of Robins stay the entire winter...

PattyF said...

I was walking across the Michigan State Campus today and froze in my tracks. Couldn't believe I was seeing Robins still here in Michigan a little over half way into October. Have not seen any where I live in the country outside of Lansing.

Anonymous said...

Saw a flock of robins on christmas day in Waterford Mi.(Oakland County). There must have been a hundred. Couldn't believe it. Saw one this morning.(March 1).

John Gnotek said...

I've never seen a robin in winter in Michigan. Usually when I first see a robin it's a declaration that Spring is here. Today I saw a flock of robins in in the trees outside my office window in Bingham Farms, MI.

Anonymous said...

I'm looking at nearly a dozen robins outside my front window mid-January in Michigan and they are absolutely destroying these left over crab apples. Never seen anything like it.

Anonymous said...

We saw a flock of robins in a crabapple tree in our front yard yesterday. Maybe twenty of them. Today, I see one in my backyard in the trees. I have never seem robins in Ann Arbor in January before. I keep wondering if they are some bird species that LOOK like a robin. Thought they were supposed to be one of the first signs of spring- not a bird who stays here in the dead of winter with the and a lot of snow.

Anonymous said...

I've been watching the Robins in my ornamental pear tree all day in Romeo Michigan! I've never seen them in winter before. They seem very fat and healthy. Must be the ones from Canada!

Nancy Heller said...

We are seeing robins in northern Delaware prior to and after our 17 inch snowfall this past weekend.