Wisconsin school children selected the American robin as the state bird during the 1926-1927 school year. In 1949, state lawmakers made it official. Welcomed as a harbinger of spring, robins actually seldom migrate outside of their breeding area -- even in winter. The bird feels at home in a variety of settings, including backyards, meadows, woods and cities.
Robins grow up to about 11 inches in length, the largest of the North American thrushes. Grayish brown in color, with an orange breast, a dark head and a white belly, robins are easy to spot. Females are slightly more subdued in color. Males produce a series of notes that have a caroling rhythm, and they typically only sing during the breeding season. Either sex issues an alarm call when startled or when danger approaches.
Robins vary their diets throughout the day, preferring earthworms in the morning and switching to fruits in the afternoon. During the breeding season, their diets are more rich in protein, as they consume grasshoppers, snails, ants, spiders and beetles along with worms. During the winter, when insects and similar prey are difficult to come by, robins eat whatever fruit and berries they can forage. Should they feast on too many honeysuckle berries, however, robins can become intoxicated.
Nesting and Breeding
Female robins use one wing to press twigs and sprouts of dead grass into cup-shaped nests. Soft mud from worm castings fortify the nest, which the female then lines with soft grass. Robins raise up to three broods each year, typically in the spring and summer months. Mortality rates for the species is high. Less than half of the nests actually produce fledglings, and only 25 percent of those birds that fledge make it until November. Of those lucky enough to live that long, half survive until the next year. Predation, pesticide pollution and accidents with motor vehicles all take a toll on robins.
Robins hop or run, then remain motionless in one spot as they search for worms and insects. They cock their heads to one side as if listening, but they are actually carefully watching the ground for any movement that indicates food is present. In the winter, robins spend less time on the ground in search of food and more time in treetops, where they roost in communal groups that can reach into the hundreds. As spring approaches, these groups disperse, a signal that breeding season is right around the corner. Robins typically stay in the same area all their lives, although they may make very short migrations in spring and fall.