The North American Robin

During March in the Yukon the Trumpeter Swans arrive as the heralds of spring, carrying tidings of the change of season on their wings. A month later in early April the first sounds of spring arrive; the clear carol of a Robin. American Robins bring spring to the Yukon; the first dripping sounds are heard, pussy-willows start to bloom, the sky gets bluer and the sun feels warm on your face. Robins are the symbol of spring-time.

American Robin

North American Robins (more commonly known as “American Robins”) are a migratory thrush that spend their winters in North America along the Pacific Coast and from Florida to Mexico. Robins do overwinter in some parts of Canada too, though it is less common. In the Yukon there is one Robin reported overwintering in Whitehorse or Teslin almost every year. Though they are early arrivals in the Yukon during the spring, some are late getting back out in the fall. The majority leave anytime during late July through to September, but a few might wait until November or even later to leave. During migration, Robins will collect in lowlands and can be seen in large groups along mudflats foraging. They can be found in almost any kind of habitat and can even be seen above treeline, though their prefered breeding habitat is urban and agricultural areas, and forest.

An American Robin’s diet consists of three basic food groups: fruit, berries, and insects. If you observe a Robin skipping through your lawn then stopping to tilt its head and examine the ground, it is carefully pinpointing bugs and worms hidden in the grass with its reptilian eyes. A Robin can eat about 14feet of Earthworms each day! People try to bring more Robins into their yard by putting out bird baths (Which attracts many different bird species) and mealworm feeders. Robins will not eat regular bird seed, but they find feeders full of fruit and worms appealing. In the spring they will usually be foraging for nest materials as well as food. They start nesting soon after their arrival in the spring, and the season lasts from April to July. The nests are built mainly of small twigs, grass, and mud, and are usually located between 0 and 15 metres above the ground. Many Robins will raise more than one brood in a season; parents raising up to three broods in a season have been reported. Each brood has a new nest built, and three to five light blue eggs are laid after the nest construction is finished. The nest is built by the female, while the male sings to defend his territory and to make himself known.  It takes about two weeks for the eggs to hatch, two weeks for the chicks to fledge, and then two weeks again for the fledglings to be able to fly well. Both of the parents feed and defend their fledglings until they have learned how to forage for themselves. Unfortunately, only approximately 25% of the fledglings survive their first year. The average lifespan of a wild Robin is two years, although the oldest wild Robin known was fourteen years old. These young Robins will grow to be an average of 10-11inches long, with an average 12.2-16inch long wingspan. Juvenile Robins are dull with yellowish edges on their feathers, and big spots on their red breast. The adult males have a dark-gray to black back and tail, and a brick-red breast. The colours on a female are much duller than the males.


Fledgling American Robin


American Robins are not a large, powerful bird so they have many predators. Dogs, cats, hawks, and snakes are just a few. Fledglings are an easy meal for predators which is why few survive to their second year. Nest predation is common by Ravens and Crows. Cowbirds will lay their eggs in Robins nests, but the parent Robins reject them upon discovery recognizing them as different eggs from their own. Robins used to be hunted for meat before the Migratory Bird Act, but that is now an illegal action. Robins are so wide-spread and numerous that their conservation status is currently “Least Concern”.

Robins have been a much-loved bird by all of us for many years; its spirited personality, bright red breast, and cheery song make it stand out from other birds. A Robins song is the first thing you hear in the morning and the last thing you hear at night in the early summer. They are very talkative: serenading the ladies, warning each other of danger, calling to chicks and their mates, and talking quietly to themselves. Many stories, folktales, legends, and myths revolve around the Robin, including stories about how it first came to possess its red breast. One story based off of an old Irish Folk tale is told as follows:


Many years ago, late in the year, a cruel wind brought biting cold weather; making the night more bitter for a father and son who had travelled far, and still had farther to go. They sought a cottage, a barn, or even a tree – anyplace they could seek shelter. But there was nothing to be seen or found, except for a bush, and at last the father built a fire and told his son to try and sleep a little.

And when the father’s eyes began to droop he woke his son, and bid him watch the fire.

Oh how the boy tried to stay awake! But he hadn’t really slept while laying on the frozen ground and he was still exhausted from the walk. His eyes got lower. His head got lower.

The fire got lower.

So low in fact that a starving wolf began to inch nearer to the sleeping pair.

Bu there was one who was awake. There was on who saw everything from amidst the barren bush; a little bird who was as gray as the bramby wood.

The bird hopped down and began fanning the flickering embers until the flames began to lick out hungrily; nor did the little bird stop, despite the pain on his breast, until the flames were dancing with strength.

And from that day on the Robin has proudly worn a red breast.


American Robin On Mudflats In The Evening

Bibliography Found at This Link: Bibliography


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