When you peek out your window to spy on a robin yanking a worm out of the soil in your yard, you might wonder if you're looking at a male robin or a female robin. The differences between male and female robins are minimal, but you can certainly detect them with a bit of help.
American Robin vs. European Robin
When you're trying to distinguish between male and female robins, making sure you have the right species is one of the most important aspects. People refer to two different songbird species by the name "robin," and you can determine which species you're dealing with based on where you live.
If you live in North America or Central America, the term "robin" refers to the American Robin, Turdus migratorious. The feathers on their back sport a solid gray-brown coloration, while their breast and much of their underside bear bright orange coloration.
If you live in Europe, the term "robin" refers to the European Robin, Erithacus rubecula. This species has brown feathers along its back, white on its belly and red on its breast. If you're hoping to tell the difference between male and female European Robins simply by looking at them, you're out of luck. The European Robin does not display sexual dimorphism, and the males and females have identical coloration.
Sexual Dimorphism in Robins
In an animal species, if there is a difference in color, size or shape between males and females, that animal species displays sexual dimorphism. For some animals, such as sea lions or elephant seals, the males outweigh the females by huge amounts. In others, the coloration of fur or feathers can help you determine the difference between males and females.
In the American species, male and female robins have slight differences in their plumage which you can use to tell them apart.
Female American Robin
Female American Robins are slightly smaller than their male counterparts. The coloration on their head is not quite as dark as the male's and has less of a contrast with the lighter gray-brown color of their back. In addition to the feathers on their head, the overall coloration of the female American Robin is slightly paler than the male.
Male American Robin
Male American Robins have overall brighter plumage than females. The feathers on their head are a deep chocolate brown that contrasts against the lighter gray-brown coloration of their back. The orange feathers on their belly have a deep, rusty coloration compared to the paler orange of the female.
American Robin Reproduction
Male and female robins establish breeding pairs shortly after their return from their winter migration. They fly north for spring and summer, breeding between the months of April and July. During the course of the breeding season, a pair can produce two or three clutches of young.
The pair builds a new nest for each clutch of eggs. Female robins incubate the eggs and brood the young. Baby robins leave the nest, or fledge, when they reach two weeks of age. It takes another two weeks before the young can fly capably.
American Robin Behavior
This bird species is diurnal, which means they are active during the day and sleep at night. Generally social birds, you can often find small groups of robins foraging for insects together. This is especially true during the winter, as they fly south and congregate in large numbers at their winter feeding grounds.
When they fly north for the spring and summer, they become more territorial and less social. Breeding pairs establish a territory and generally avoid interacting with other pairs while they raise their young.
About the Author
Marina Somma is a freelance writer and animal trainer. She holds a B.A. in Psychology and a B.S. in Marine and Environmental Biology & Policy from Monmouth University. Marina has worked with a number of publications involving animal science, behavior and training, including animals.net, SmallDogsAcademy and more.