Nothing says spring like the American robin. Most years my mom and I will call each other when we see our first robin. There is something uplifting about seeing them. Maybe because they singal the end of winter and the promise of spring.
American robins can be found throughout most of North America from the coast of Alaska to down through Mexico and breeding grounds in central Canada. There are regional differences in coloration due to diet and climate but for the most part they all have the same coloration. I was in disbelief to learn that not all American robins will migrate south. In fact it isn’t the cold that moves them to southern locations but access to food. During the growing season we see them in our yards with their head tilted looking at the ground for earthworms and other insects. Once cooler temperatures arrive and the insects are less plentiful their diet changes to fruits.
This diet change will also influence their behavior. They are no longer on the ground feeding but in the tree canopies feeding on persistent fruits of our honeysuckle, crabapples, hawthorn and others. They also move out of the urban backyard to more wooded locations where these fruit sources are more available.
One of the things we can do to encourage robins to visit your backyard during the winter months is to provide shelter, food, and water. Plant small trees and shrubs that provide the persistent fruit that they need. Shrubbery will also provide protection from the winter winds. We also need to go easy on the flower bed clean up in the fall. Keeping dead plant material over the winter provides shelter not only for birds but for overwintering insects. Open water is another important factor. Use a heating device to keep water ice free during the winter months. Most heating units need to be around 250 watts for our area.
Keep in mind that most of the robins will migrate south. But we have many other birds that would appreciate the shelter, water and food.