The American Robin, Turdus migratorius, is a migratory songbird of the thrush family. It is named after the European Robin because of the male's bright red breast, though the two species are not related. The American Robin is widely distributed throughout North America, wintering south of Canada from Florida to central Mexico and along the Pacific Coast. It is the state bird of Connecticut, Michigan and Wisconsin. It has seven subspecies, but only T. m. confinis in the southwest is particularly distinctive, with pale gray-brown underparts.
The American Robin is active mostly during the day and assembles in large flocks at night. Its diet consists of invertebrates (such as beetle grubs and caterpillars), fruits and berries. It is one of the first bird species to lay eggs, beginning to breed shortly after returning to its summer range from its winter range. Its nest consists of long coarse grass, twigs, paper, and feathers, and is smeared with mud and often cushioned with grass or other soft materials. It is among the first birds to sing at dawn, and its song consists of several discrete units that are repeated.
The adult robin is preyed upon by hawks, cats and larger snakes, but when feeding in flocks it is able to be vigilant and watch other birds for reactions to predators. Brood parasitism by the Brown-headed Cowbird occurs, but is rare because the robin usually rejects the cowbird eggs.
Seven subspecies of American Robin are recognized. These subspecies intergrade and are only weakly defined.
The nominate subspecies of the American Robin is 23–28 centimeters (10–11 in) long with a wingspan ranging from 11.9 to 13.7 centimeters, and averages about 77 grams (2.7 oz) in weight. The head varies from jet black to gray, with white eye arcs and white supercilia. The throat is white with black streaks, and the belly and undertail coverts are white. The Robin has a brown back and a reddish-orange breast, varying from a rich red maroon to peachy orange. The bill is mainly yellow with a variably dark tip, the dusky area becoming more extensive in winter, and the legs and feet are brown.
The sexes are similar, but the female tends to be duller than the male, with a brown tint to the head, brown upperparts and less bright underparts. However, some birds cannot be safely sexed on plumage alone. The juvenile is paler in color than the adult male and has dark spots on its breast, and whitish wing coverts. First-year birds are not easily distinguishable from adults, but they tend to be duller, and a small percentage retains a few juvenile wing coverts or other feathers.
Despite being depicted in the film Mary Poppins "feathering its nest" in London, this species is actually a rare vagrant to western Europe, where the majority of records, more than 20, have been in Britain. In autumn 2003, migration was displaced eastwards leading to massive movements through the eastern US, and presumably this is what led to no fewer than three American Robins being found in Britain, with two attempting to overwinter in 2003–2004, although one was taken by a Sparrowhawk. The most recent sighting in Britain occurred in January 2007.
This species has also occurred as a vagrant to Greenland, Jamaica, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and Belize. Vagrants to Europe, where identified to subspecies, are nominate T. m. migratorius, but the Greenland birds also included T. m. nigrideus, and some of the southern overshots may have been T. m. achrusterus.
The American Robin's breeding habitat is woodland and more open farmland and urban areas. It breeds only rarely in the southern United States and there prefers large shade trees on lawns. Its winter habitat is similar but includes more open areas.
Birds in central California of the subspecies propinquus are considered to be still increasing their range, and this is probably the case elsewhere in the U.S.A.
The American Robin's diet generally consists of around 40 percent invertebrates, such as beetle grubs, caterpillars and grasshoppers, and 60 percent wild and cultivated fruits and berries. It forages primarily on the ground for soft-bodied invertebrates, and finds worms by sight, pouncing on them and then pulling them up. Nestlings are fed mainly on worms and other soft-bodied animal prey. In some areas, Robins, particularly of the coastal race T. m. caurinus will feed on beaches, taking insects and small mollusks.
The Robin is frequently seen running across lawns, picking up earthworms by sight, and its running and stopping behavior is a distinguishing characteristic. It hunts visually, not by hearing.
The American Robin is known to be a rejecter of cowbird eggs, so brood parasitism by the Brown-headed Cowbird is rare. Even when it occurs, the parasite's chick does not normally survive to fledging. In a study of 105 juvenile Robins, 77.1% were infected with one or more species of endoparasite, with Syngamus species the most commonly encountered, found in 57.1% of the birds.
The American Robin begins to breed shortly after returning to its summer range. It is one of the first North American bird species to lay eggs, and normally has two to three broods per breeding season, which lasts from April to July.
The nest is most commonly located 1.5–4.5 meters (5–15 ft) above the ground in a dense bush or in a fork between two tree branches, and is built by the female alone. The outer foundation consists of long coarse grass, twigs, paper, and feathers. This is lined with smeared mud and cushioned with fine grass or other soft materials. A new nest is built for each brood, and in northern areas the first clutch is usually placed in an evergreen tree or shrub while later broods are placed in deciduous trees. The American Robin does not shy away from nesting close to human habitation.
A clutch consists of three to five light blue eggs, and is incubated by the female alone. The eggs hatch after 14 days, and chicks leave the nest a further two weeks later. All chicks in the brood leave the nest within two days of each other. The altricial chicks are naked and have their eyes closed for the first few days after hatching. While the chicks are still young, the mother broods them continuously. When they are older, the mother will brood them only at night or during bad weather. Even after leaving the nest, the juveniles will follow their parents around and beg food from them. Juveniles become capable of sustained flight two weeks after fledging.
The adult male and female both are active in protecting and feeding the fledged chicks until they learn to forage on their own. The adult Robin gives alarm calls and dive-bombs predators, including domestic cats, dogs and humans that come near the young birds. The fledglings are able to fly short distances after leaving the nest. The wings of juvenile birds develop rapidly, and it only takes a couple of weeks for them to become proficient at flying. The cryptically colored young birds perch in bushes or trees for protection from predators. Bird banders have found that only 25% of young Robins survive the first year. The longest known lifespan in the wild of an American Robin is 14 years; the average lifespan is about 2 years.
The Robin is considered a symbol of spring. A well-known example is a poem by Emily Dickinson, "I Dreaded That First Robin So". Among other 19th-century poems about the first robin of spring is "The First Robin" by Dr. William H. Drummond, which according to the author's wife is based on a Quebec superstition that whoever sees the first robin of spring will have good luck.
American popular songs featuring this bird include "When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along", written by Harry M. Woods and a hit for Al Jolson and others, and "Rockin' Robin", written by Roger Thomas and a hit for Bobby Day and others.
Although the comic-book superhero Robin was inspired by an N. C. Wyeth illustration of Robin Hood, a later version had his mother nicknaming him Robin because he was born on the first day of spring. His red shirt suggests the bird's red breast.