Winter Robins

Winter Robins

Posted January 12, 2022

As a native New Englander, I always thought that robins migrated to the south in the winter and returned in the spring. After all, my mother, who hated winter, always called me when she saw the first robin in her yard. Spring is coming! So, how to explain the flock of robins who appear in my yard in January? They eat all the red berries on the holly bushes, which takes a few days, have a big party in the heated birdbath, and move on. Are they the same robins we see in the summer? Have they come from further north? Will they be around all winter? My research tells me that all of these are possibilities.

Robins react to winter in two ways. Many robins migrate to warmer climates, in search of the earthworms and insects they cannot find in the colder months. The migration is food-driven, not temperature-driven.

The robins who stay in northern locations alter their diet, switching to fruits and berries such as junipers and hollies. They also form nomadic flocks, which can number in the hundreds or even thousands. This gives them a better chance to spot and avoid predators. If one finds a food source, it will notify the others. They adapt to the cold by growing more feathers, which they can fluff up to trap pockets of warm air. Robins are able to maintain an internal temperature of 104℉.  There’s not a lot you can provide for robins in the winter; they don’t visit bird feeders. They may be attracted by raisins, berries, or pieces of apple placed on the ground, and they definitely appreciate a heated birdbath for fresh water.

Apparently, there isn’t a good answer to how robins decide whether to stay or go, but it seems that more males stay behind, which gives them first choice of good breeding grounds. In the spring, the migrating robins return, and the nomadic flocks disperse. Males sing vigorously, and suddenly there are pairs of robins everywhere!

Written by Dee Jepson, WLT Member

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