Wilderness Underfoot: The American robin

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-117872894210678.jpg’, ”, ”);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-117872896017629.jpg’, ”, ‘A sign of spring – This bird is found nearly everywhere on the North American continent, with the exception of the cold northernmost region of Canada. Females are duller in color than males.‘);

This is one of the most widespread songbirds in North America.

They’re back. Although we think of the appearance of robins as a sign of spring, at least a few of these migratory birds actually live here throughout the year. Some stay behind, and others migrate here from states farther north and from Canada, while most of our own local robin population migrates to southern states and Mexico.

Spring is the time for most birds, including the robin, to raise their young. Because the robin nests relatively early in the season, this bird is often able to raise two or three broods by summer. The male arrives here earlier and begins establishing his territory, competing with other males for newly arriving females. Once mates have been selected and they’ve built their nests, the female lays about three to five baby-blue eggs. The female does most of the brooding, with the male helping out occasionally so she can search for food.

Robins are altricial—meaning they are born naked, blind and totally dependent on their parents. The hatchlings remain in the nest for about two weeks, mostly fed by the female. Once they’ve grown sufficiently to leave the nest (fledged), young robins are protected by the male while the female hatches another clutch of eggs. About two weeks after they’ve fledged, the young robins are able to fly.

The reason for raising several broods is high mortality of the young; only about 25 percent of robins even survive their first summer. Robin eggs and young are preyed on by mammals such as squirrels and raccoons, by snakes, and by birds such as crows and blue jays. Adult robins are most often killed by domestic cats and birds of prey. They are also susceptible to pesticides and other toxins. Recently, they’ve been hit by West Nile virus, and research suggests the birds may be spreading it, while at the same time, oddly enough, helping attract virus-carrying mosquitoes species away from humans. Those mosquitoes seem to prefer robin blood.

Robins have adapted to urban and suburban areas, happily settling near people. What makes human habitats perfect for robins is our tendency to plant wide stretches of lawn, with plenty of trees and shrubs for nesting and safety. This sort of environment provides plenty of earthworms, caterpillars, grubs and berries.

from the May 2-8, 2007, issue

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