Robins in Winter

January 12, 2014

If you live in the northern half of the U.S. it may take you by surprise to suddenly see a tree-full of Robins in the midst of a frigid winter.  The bird we associate with spring seems out of place and vulnerable, surrounded by American Robin (Turdus migratorius)deep snow.  But Robins often do remain in their summer breeding grounds over winter and only a few are short-distance migrants. Some birds may head south toward Mexico and Florida, but many U.S. birds stay put.  Only birds that summer in Canada regularly move south when cold weather sets in.

So why is it such a surprise when a flock of Robins suddenly appear in winter? The reason is their change in diet. In spring, we’re used to seeing Robins hopping across suburban lawns, cocking their heads at the grass, pulling up worms for themselves and their nestlings. But although earthworms account for about 15% of a Robin’s diet, along with some insects and invertebrates, Robins are primarily fruit and berry-eaters. Some of the foods they enjoy are hawthorn Winter Robins at Duncraft 002fruits, crab-apples and chokecherries, as well as juniper, honeysuckle and sumac berries. In winter, with no earthworms to be had, a Robin’s diet changes to almost exclusively fruits and berries. As a result, they tend to frequent moist, dense woodlands where berry-producing shrubs and plants are more likely found.  And instead of being seen out on your lawn, they spend their winter roosting together in trees and shrubs—largely unnoticed. When they suddenly do appear,  you’ll likely see a flock of them, gathered in a crab-apple tree or sumac bush, devouring the fruits and berries.

When you see Robins in winter, your first thought might be to put out something to feed them.  Robins will love dried blueberries or cranberries, suet pellets and wax worms. Or you can soak raisins in warm water to soften them, or put out grapes cut in half or apple slices.  And Robins especially seem to enjoy a heated bird bath.  If you don’t have a heated bath, you can purchase a heater for an existing bath. In fact, your birds might be attracted more to the water at first, so having the birdbath out and then placing your foods on a ground feeder or scattered near the birdbath may be the best way to attract them to the foods you’re offering. And if you do feed Robins in winter, chances are extremely good that they’ll find a place to nest in your yard come spring.

Robins birdbath

Robins are the largest of the thrushes, a large family that includes bluebirds, solitaires and Veerys. There are four species of Robins, three of which resides nest south of Texas. But our American Robin needs no introduction!  They’re easily recognized by their gray-brown backs, darker heads and warm-orange bellies. We’re even familiar with the color of their eggs (robin’s-egg-blue, of course!), and many of us have had the joy of watching a Robin build a nest in their yard and can recognize the spotted youngsters.  Robins build an open nest of sticks and twigs that may be built on flat surfaces such as the top of airconditioning units or overhangs near your house or low in the branches of a tree or dense shrub. Thrushes are some of our most eloquent songsters. Robins have a cheerful song in spring (listen to the Robin’s song) and in winter a tweeting, chirping call  (listen to the Robin’s chirp).

But even if most Robins are with us all winter, the sight of a Robin will always be the first sign of spring!

–R. Brune

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In which I had a better title
February 7, 2011 at 9:16 pm

{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

Danny Germer January 12, 2010 at 3:10 pm

great photo of the bird bath! bunch of robins! even a waxwing….hope to see an american robin down here some day

Belinda Futty January 16, 2010 at 6:47 am

Nice article on the robins.I live in North East,Maryland and its not unusual to see robins in the winter.I have a lot of woods and pines around and they seemed to stay there most of the winter.On bright sunny days you will see them out looking for food.They always make me think of spring!

Elizabeth January 16, 2010 at 12:09 pm

What a coincidence I came across this article! No one would believe me. Must say I had my own doubts. As everyone is aware of, we are experiencing very cold temperatures here in the South (NC) Just the other day I looked out my window and absentmindedly said,” Oh, good sign, a Robin.” Than, I said, ” Wait a minute this is Jan!” They just kept coming, gravitating to the water more than the feeders. Each day since twice a day they came, increasing in numbers. This is the first winter I’ve been visited by Robins. At first I felt sorry for them wondering if the cold temperatures some how confused them. Now I know it’s normal and I will just keep birdbaths filled and anxiously wait for warmer weather more associated with the Robin. Thanks for a very informative article.

Sharon January 17, 2010 at 11:37 am

I just had a robin in my tree the other day in Wisconsin. They never go close to the tray feeder so it would be hard to set things out for them. I feel bad for them with staying when we have so much snow on the ground…I wish i could catch them at my birdbath…great picture.

debbie February 7, 2010 at 5:40 pm

So glad to read your article about robins wintering in the north. I live in Maryland just below the PA line and we have been seeing a large flock of robins (75 -100) in our yard for the past two weeks. They seem to arrive around 4:30 – 5:00 p.m. Yesterday, we had 2 feet of snow and when the storm ended and the sun came out – there they were! Today it is sunny and warmed to around 30 degrees and they’re here again!!!! They seem to want the cherries in the tree out front, but a very loud mocking bird protects his tree from them ! I will definitely put out my heated bird bath for them and maybe even give them some fruit and suet balls. Again, thanks for the info.

Janet Walton, Ohio February 11, 2010 at 11:51 am

Have had them come to my bird feeder and eat . Was real surprised the first time I saw this.

Nikki February 11, 2010 at 12:14 pm

I live in Maine and do have a lone Robin most winters. Imagine my surprise when a couple of weeks ago I had dozens! They were everywhere and I too said wait a minute it is Jan. My husband and I started counting as fast as we could and figure we had 50 to 75 Robins
in our large yard. And they were eating every berry in site. They stayed around for a couple of days.

Melissa February 11, 2010 at 3:18 pm

This winter, a couple a robins take turns coming to my heated bird bath mounted on my deck railing every day! My kids and I like to count how many “head bobs” they take dipping their beaks into the water to drink. So far, the highest number is 19 times! When I see one in our wooded trees next to our deck, I know they are headed to our heated bird bath next. Last week for the first time ever, I saw a whole flock of Cedar Waxings in my ornamental pear tree. What a beautiful looking bird they are! Then I noticed a flock of robins taking turns sharing the same tree! Both were eating the tiny little pear fruit (which I never realized I had during the winter months). Then I noticed some of the robins going over to my Blue Rug junipers berries to eat. I know Robins have frequently make nests around my house over the years, but I never realized how many Robins were around during the winter. They are such a pleasure to watch! Last winter, a Mockingbird came to my heated bird bath everyday to drink! I definitely recommend having a heated bird bath which attracts many many birds, most of whom also come to my nearby birdfeeders. Seeing a robin however, on my heated bird bath is even more delightful!

Melissa February 11, 2010 at 3:35 pm

Forgot to mention in my comment above that I live in Northwestern, NJ where we have had very cold temperatures and lots of snow this winter.

Sue February 11, 2010 at 5:26 pm

I live in Central Florida and this is the first time I have ever seen Robins in my yard, winter or summer. It was a surprising site to see them all over the yard yesterday morning!

Barbara February 12, 2010 at 2:14 pm

I too have seen dozens of Robins on one of my daily walks in a park in the Elkins Park area of PA. I was shocked to see so many of them flying around. I thought they were in distress til I read your article.Thanks for the info.

Al Ponte February 13, 2010 at 11:02 am

Funny…I too used to think Robins migrated South for the Winter. I have a couple of Japanese crabapple trees in the yard and the fruit dries on the trees into Winter….that is, until the Robins find them. I was amazed the first time when hundreds of them descended on the trees and picked them clean in about 10 minutes. I thought the same thing, Robins?, Winter?, what’s going on? Now, I’m used to seeing them scurrying around the yard on warmer days after the snow has melted, looking for anything they can find.

Maureen February 13, 2010 at 9:33 pm

I have been feeding the robins during the winter in Pennsylvania for many years. I fill a small tray with rasins every day and my four robins show up several times to feed. If the tray is empty, they sit in my kitchen window box and churp to alert me that the dish is empty. During our last Nor’easter on 2/10/10 a flock of approximately 50 Robins appeared in my maple tree looking for food. I scattered a box of rasins on the snow and the food vanished in about 30 minutes and then they moved on with exception of my original four. In the past I use to soak the rasins, but it really is not necessary. This year the first one arrived on 2/1/10 and needless to say I was delighted! After receiving 44 inches of snow within a week, seeing Robins made it seem like Spring is not too far away. They are delightful creatures.

Don February 17, 2010 at 10:26 am

I have a returning Robin over the last year or two. Wanna know how I know it is the same one? This Robin is the only one I’ve ever seen go to the bird feeder and get the dried cherries in the mix. This is a cabin bird feeder. So with the Robin’s size, it’s amazing seeing the Robin even get on the side. Wild Huh?

Patty December 29, 2010 at 4:52 pm

I have a Robin that has lived in my yard for over 3 years now. It is always alone. When I go out on my deck it makes its pressense known. When Iam gardening in the summer it sits on the side of my wheelbarrel. I live in British Columbia on Vancouver Island. The Robin appears to be healthy and flys quite well. Is this normal?

Duncraft January 4, 2011 at 8:51 am

Hi Patty,
Sounds like you have a friend! Not sure it’s normal, but it must be nice to have such a tame bird around.

Ashley T. January 23, 2011 at 5:38 pm

I live in Fishers, IN and I too have suddenly noticed a huge influx of Robins in my area. I first noticed them about January 18th. I’ve lived in Indiana all my life and have never noticed this many at this time of year in my life. So amazing!! And encouraging to see them during this long cold winter.

Tanja December 1, 2011 at 5:00 pm

We are spending the winter in Havasu AZ…and feed the sparrows and hummers…The last few days we have had a single Robin enjoying the birdbath and pecking around the berries falling from the Palms trees…Will put out some apple,raisins and other fruit . Love seeing one of our favorite birds from Idaho…

Brenda January 10, 2012 at 8:25 am

I am so glad to come across this article, I was wondering what the heck was going on with all these robins around!

Linda January 13, 2012 at 8:56 am

Jan 1st 2011 Rockin’ Robin landed in our yard. -30 degres temp. We live in Northern Ontario Canada. He has stayed here everyday and enjoyed our food…hopefully we can keep him alive till spring! We love seeing him here! Oh and he is a bully, scaring away even the blue jays and whiskey jacks!

MP January 23, 2012 at 4:01 pm

I was pleasantly surprised to see several robins this morning, being it is January and we have just had our first snowfall a few days ago (southern New York State)! I will put out some food for them with the hope that they stick around – they remind me of spring!

ALTHEA ROBERSON March 5, 2012 at 7:17 pm

WOW!! THANK YOU, I THOUGHT I WAS LOOSING IT AS I SEE SO MANY ROBINS WITH FAT BELLYS FLYING ALL OVER BLAIRSVILLE, PA. I USUALLY SEE MY FIRST ROBIN IN MAY. SMILIES THEY ARE BEAUTIFUL AND IT IS SNOWING BUT THEY AREN’T LEAVING. I THOUGHT THEY WERE CONFUSED BECAUSE OF OUR WARM WINTER, BUT IT IS FREEZING BELOW 32 DEGREES TO 0 DEGREES WITH THE HIGH WINDS.

David L. Leichtman March 30, 2012 at 7:53 pm

I’ve tried over the years to entice Robins into my yard in Queen Creek, AZ. I beautiful winter perennial rye lawn with hundreds of earthworms has really paid off. Every year now I have from half a dozen to as many as a dozen hang around from November to April. We’re about 35 miles from downtown Phoenix. Last two years also brought in a few rufous-backed Robins.

SHARK October 18, 2012 at 10:04 pm

Robins are beautiful with 3 eggs in the nest. Birds fly to a different continent when autumn comes. I would love to FLY out of continent right now with the change of season.

SHARK and Marina October 18, 2012 at 10:09 pm

Robins are beautiful with 3 eggs in the nest. Birds fly to a different continent when autumn comes. I would love to FLY out of continent right now with the change of season listening to a d-moll musee en Wyne Strasse en Deutchland composed by Ludwig Van Beethoven. Fur Elise, ein piano classique.

SHARK and Marina October 18, 2012 at 10:10 pm

Robins are beautiful with 3 beautiful green eggs in the nest. Birds fly to a different continent when autumn comes. I would love to FLY out of continent right now with the change of season listening to a d-moll musee en Wyne Strasse en Deutchland composed by Ludwig Van Beethoven. Fur Elise, ein piano classique.

MaFa January 27, 2013 at 4:14 pm

Here on Long Island the 25 day of January it has been in the low teens for a week with one inch of snow on the ground but to my surprise we have a flock of Robins visiting for the past week, they ate up all of the berries on my four holly trees and left no food for our resident mocking bird. Now I have mixed emotions about the Robins visit.

Jeanne February 9, 2013 at 11:54 pm

Though I’ve seen what some call “winter robins” for years now, this is the first time that a robin has fed at the feeder. It took some time for him to figure out how to grip the side of the tray and pick the seeds out of the holes. He’s been around for several days now right through our big snowstorm here on the southern coast of Mass. Of course I had to get him some special treats, dried mealworms and apple mixed with some suet and sunflower hearts. He’s getting bolder with all the birds coming around after the storm – now I’m hoping that he will find a mate and stay around to have a family in the spring. Next thing is to get the heated birdbath out. It was so warm before now that it wasn’t needed!

Shelby February 12, 2013 at 6:10 pm

Wow — you are pretty lucky! Robins can sometimes be lured to a ground feeder with a little bowl of raisin or mealworms, but I haven’t heard of people having luck with them eating from their regular feeders. I wish you luck in convincing your robin to stick around and nest. We have a wide variety of heated baths — hope you can find one that you like.

chrissie February 28, 2013 at 10:03 pm

I live in Jacksonville, FL and our weather has been very odd 80′s during the week and lows in the 20′s on the weekends. This week one lone robin has been appearing in our tree (it flys between the to taller trees in the backyard). It starts calling around 5pm (sounds very frantic) and then disappears at around 530. I have never seen a robin in the trees and especially not alone (they usually invade the neighborhood and move like a wave across the lawns) Should I put something out for him to eat? Do they do okay on without a flock?

Shelby March 1, 2013 at 2:51 pm

It’s not unusual for a robin to be solitary, although we’re more used to seeing them in pairs and flocks. Robins really enjoy a good source of water for drinking and bathing; a ground level bird bath is ideal for them. Fruit makes up a large portion of their diet. We have quite a few foods that would be great for robins such as Roasted WaxSnax & Cranberries, Robin & Bluebird Medley, or dried fruits or mealworms.

chrissie March 1, 2013 at 6:40 pm

thanks Shelby…we are expecting a freeze again this weekend so I want to put out some fruit and mealworms :)

kenny robin April 17, 2013 at 6:58 am

I love the bird I need one can i get it

Claire January 12, 2014 at 2:27 pm

Was shocked to see hundreds of Robins on the lawn and in the trees
yesterday. Understood why after reading about winter robins. Just a few around today

Dalene January 26, 2014 at 4:01 am

This article was helpful. The other day a tree in my front yard was filled was lots of birds. At first I thought it was those darn starlings, but on closer inspection they appeared to be robins. Wait that can’t be, robins come in the spring. This was boggling my mind for a couple days now. Peace of mind is a good thing.

joan watkins January 30, 2014 at 12:44 pm

I am just looking out my sunroom window at a flock of robins flitting around from tree to tree.It is –16c and windy so very very cold and they seem totally unconcerned.They are very large and fluffy and some have white underbellies.Atreat to watch.I live in Nova Scotia Canada

Liz February 2, 2014 at 8:01 am

Woke up this morning to a huge flock of robins in our field! I thought spring was here, but I guess they are just looking to eat from our large crabapple tree! I am in CT where January has been extremely cold so I was just hoping maybe to get some relief! Lovely sight to see.

sherry February 13, 2014 at 11:42 am

so helpful because I did suddenly see a flock in our nor’easter and now feel reassured they’ll fare well from reading your helpful info. tu

Nancy February 15, 2014 at 9:36 am

Hi! I am having a problem with some robins and I’m hoping you can help me. We’ve had a lot of snow and cold weather here in central Indiana this year and so I was shocked to see robins a few weeks ago. There are quite a few of them…a hundred maybe. They are hanging out at my back door, on the stoop, on the overhang, on the railing! I’m becoming quite alarmed! We do have a crabapple tree in the backyard, maybe 50 ft or so away from the house as well as a large pine tree. They are feeding off the crabapple tree. I don’t know why they are hanging around the house, there is no heat coming from that area and I don’t know how to get rid of them. Can you offer me some advice? Thank you.

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