Photo Credit: Marlene Cashen & Weeks Bay Reserve Foundation
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Turdus migratorius
OTHER NAMES: Robin Redbreast
DESCRIPTION: The American robin is a large thrush belonging to the order Passeriformes (perching birds) and Turidae family (thrush family). Body length varies from eight to 11 inches and average weight is 2.7 ounces. Their wings and back are gray and its under parts are brick-red. The birds head is a dark gray. The varied thrush (Ixoreus naevius) is a similar species, but is seldom seen in the Eastern United States.
DISTRIBUTION: The American robin occurs throughout the eastern United States, including Alabama. The robin can be found in every county in our state and is a common nesting bird in North Alabama. Migratory robins begin arriving in Alabama in late fall as they move south ahead of cold fronts blowing in from the north. From early November until early spring, robins are plentiful, especially in South Alabama. They are possibly the most common bird seen on home landscapes and in fields, pastures and forests.
HABITAT: During breeding season, robins seek out lawns and pastures with shade trees, where earthworms are plentiful. Robins are abundant during late fall, winter and early spring in swamps, farmland and open woodlands, especially areas with heavy crops of winter berries.
FEEDING HABITS: Most of the food eaten by robins is fruit, except during summer when nestlings are present. During brood rearing, earthworms, caterpillars, grasshoppers and other insects become the dominant food items. In winter months, when large flocks of migrating birds invade Alabama, berries are heavily utilized. Dogwood (Cornus florida), holley (Ilex spp), blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica) and vacciniums are common winter fruits used by robins.
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: Robins are a very abundant and common bird in North America. The American robin was named by Europeans after the European robin (Erithacus rebecula) of their homeland. The European robin is smaller and unrelated to the robin of America. Although rare, American robins do occasionally lose their way along their migration routes and end up in Great Brittan and other European Countries.
Nesting robins in extreme South Alabama are rare and mostly restricted to home lawns and yards in urbanized areas. Robins nest commonly in North Alabama and into Central Alabama. Over the past fifty years, robins have extended their southern breeding range.
Migrating male robins reach their breeding grounds ahead of females, and select breeding territory before the females arrive. The returning females select a mate and she then constructs the nest from mud, grass and twigs. Nests are constructed in trees and ledges five feet or more above ground level. Females lay from two to four light blue eggs into the grass-lined nest and begin incubation after the last egg is laid. The male does not share incubation time with the female. Eggs hatch about 12 days later. Both parents feed the fledglings earthworms and other animal matter for about two weeks. When the young leave the nest, both parents continue to feed and protect the fledglings until they can survive on their own.
During winter months, American robins in Alabama gather into large roosts at night, with individuals flocking many miles to a roost. Robins, blackbirds and starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) sometimes share the same winter roost. These roosts are abandoned as resident robins begin to nest and migratory birds fly northward.
AUTHOR: Thagard Colvin, Wildlife Biologist - Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries