The American Robins make their return

By University of Illinois Extension — Boone, DeKalb and Ogle Counties

The American Robins have returned from their winter vacation, or have they? The robins started showing up in early February.

Residents of northern Illinois have noted flocks of robins are cleaning up the dried fruit on trees and shrubs in their neighborhood. Why would they return so early with the possibility of more snow?

Peggy Doty, University of Illinois Extension educator, said: “It is quite possible they never left. Robins tend to flock up in August and prepare for migration; however, with our milder winters, they sometimes just tuck away in wooded areas because their survival is not threatened. As long as they have open water and some random fruit left on plants, they may choose to stay in a mild weather situation.”

Robins have been found wintering over as far north as Canada.

Whether they have simply reminded us they were still here or they have returned from southern habitats, robins are definitely not eating worms from our snow-covered yards. They are gleaning fruit from trees such as crab apples and mountain ash.

Most likely, if some robins stayed here, they have exhausted their food source where they were living and are coming out into more open areas to find more food,” Doty explained.

For those who want to try to help these early birds who have no worms, Doty recommended tucking a tray with small pieces of dried fruit near, but not under, a shrub or small tree. Treats such as dried raisins, cranberries, apples, blueberries and raspberries are all favorites.

You have to remember they do not know to look on the ground for the fruit they seek in winter, as it is usually attached to a large plant,” Doty said. “If you really want to get their attention, you can add some mealworms to the tray each day. The wiggly mealworms will help catch the eye of the robins, and they will come to the tray of fruit through association.”

It is likely the males are the ones to stay through the mild winters because they are challenged with defending territories come spring breeding season. No better way to claim a territory than if you never leave town.

Females who migrated will come back well-nourished and rested, ready to build their nest and raise their offspring.

No matter who stayed and who is returning, it is a sure sign that spring will come someday soon, and hearing the spring song of the American Robin seems to lift one’s spirit, even when we still have snow on the ground.

From the March 20-26, 2013, issue

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