Look, there is a robin in the backyard tugging on a long and juicy looking earthworm. Spring must be right around the corner. Roaming around in the backyard is an American robin, easily spotted by its brown back and reddish-orange breast. The bill, presently being used to hold onto that worm, is mainly yellow with a variably dark tip. Some may argue that the dark tip is a result of digging for those juicy earthworms. The next day, fourteen inches of snow and temperatures in the single digits. Did the robins leave again? No, listen, there are a couple of them singing over there in the trees. Despite the drastic weather change, Spring must be almost here.
Do robins really mean Spring is almost here? The answer is, it depends. There are ongoing studies being conducted on robin migration. What we do know is that some robins migrate, others may not. They seem to go where food is readily available. They typically have a mixed diet of backyard bugs like earthworms, beetles, grubs, grasshoppers, and those cute caterpillars. This makes up around forty percent of their food source. The balance is mainly from wild and cultivated fruits and berries. Due to their ability to switch over to fruits and berries, robins tend to stay much further north in the winter, than many birds. If the area has a good supply of berries throughout the winter, the robin will stay around.
A driving factor of seeing the robin in the backyard at the end of winter, is the thawing of the ground, the arrival of rain, and the earthworms moving around. An interesting fact is that earthworms come to the surface during rain to avoid drowning in their burrow. The temporarily wet conditions give worms a chance to move safely to new places. Since worms breathe through their skin, the skin must stay wet for the oxygen to pass through it. After rain, or during high humidity, worms can move around without dehydrating. As we all know, the earthworm is not a speed demon and thus is an easy target for waiting robins. Reality is, robins do not need to wait. They have both great vision and listening skills. Often a robin can be seen hoping around, turning its head in multiple directions. This is the robin detecting movement of its prey, either on the surface or underground. The hunt is on and usually ends with a robin win.
Once Spring has arrived and the robin can be seen daily now, it is not long before the breeding season begins. The robin is one of the first birds to lay eggs as the warmer temperatures return. Their normal breeding season occurs from April through July. During this time span, most robins will have two to three broods. Since deciduous trees do not leaf until sometime in May, most early nests are built in some type of evergreen tree or shrub. The robin will rebuild their nest for the next couple of broods mainly in deciduous trees. We have probably all seen robin eggs whether in a nest or a picture. They lay three to five beautiful light blue eggs. The eggs hatch in fourteen days. Amazingly two weeks later the young can be seen flying and hopping around. So, if we do the math, one North American robin could have up to fifteen chicks a year. No sense in trying to lure a robin into your bird house either. They are not cavity nesters. A platform nailed to a tree or bush has a much greater chance of attracting a nesting robin.
The most vulnerable time for the robin, like many birds, is during the nesting period. The eggs and juvenile robins are preyed upon by snakes, squirrels, and other larger birds. Having said this, the adult bird is also vulnerable, especially when distracted while feeding. The robin has threats both on the ground and in the air. Cats, dogs, and snakes will seek them out on the ground. From the air, almost every variety of hawk, eagle, falcon, and owl dine on robins. There are over twenty-eight varieties of raptorial birds, looking for a robin lunch. Despite this, the robin is a strong species with a count of over 320 million members. With these type of numbers, we will continue to enjoy seeing and hearing our first robin arrival of the Spring season.