The American Robin (Turdus migratorius) is a common songbird from the Turdidae family. They can be seen across the United States and, indeed, most of North America.
Birdwatchers often see these well-known birds as a clear sign that spring has begun, although their movement patterns may be surprising to many. So, where do American Robins go in the winter?
American Robins are territorial in the spring and summer breeding season but become migratory or nomadic in the winter. Depending on where they breed, these birds may fly over a thousand miles south to their overwintering grounds in the USA and Mexico or simply remain within the same general area throughout the year.
American Robins migrate long distances to escape the harsh conditions of the northern winter but make local movements to find fruits and berries, their primary winter food source.
Many bird watchers believe that their local robins have flown south for the winter when, in reality, they have simply moved to a local patch of forest to feast on berries.
Berries are often localized, causing the birds to put their territorial behaviors on hold and band together into flocks that can number well into the hundreds. They then move from area to area, utilizing food resources as they become available.
Such unexpected changes in behavior can come as a great surprise, making birdwatching that much more fascinating. Read along with us to uncover all the interesting facts you need to know about American Robins in winter.
American Robin foraging for berries on the ground in winter
American Robins have a wide winter range that includes suitable foraging grounds throughout most of the United States and large parts of Mexico. Their movements are governed largely by food availability. Continue reading for a more detailed account.
American Robins are partial migrants, which means not all of these birds migrate in the same way. Some move only short distances, and might even fly north if it takes them to areas with a lower elevation and more abundant food resources.
American Robins that spend the spring and summer in Canada and Alaska fly south for the winter to avoid the harsh northern winter. They are resident throughout the year along the west coast as far as coastal southern Alaska, however.
American Robins occur in each of the lower 48 states in the winter. These birds do not persist in the far north of the American Midwest, however. American Robins also visit large parts of Northeastern and Northwestern Mexico for the winter.
In some regions of their extensive North American range, these birds are present only during the winter months. These winter-only areas include the southern parts of the following states:
Close up of a American Robin on the ground in the snow
Most American Robins overwinter well south of their summer breeding grounds. For others, a short-distance movement to suitable habitats at lower elevations may be all that is needed. Some birds remain in similar habitats throughout the year, however, if abundant winter food sources are available.
American Robins frequent the following habitats in winter:
The birds seek out berries and fruits at this time of year and can be particularly common where invasive berry-producing plants like Holly and Chinese Tallow occur.
American Robin perched on a snow covered branch in winter
Winter presents a difficult time for birds because environmental conditions become harsh, food becomes scarce, and even drinking water can be tough to find. Read on to learn how American Robins survive the depths of winter.
American Robins prepare for winter by migrating or moving away from the coldest parts of their range and into more suitable areas. In some places, these movements could be down slopes from high altitudes and mountainous areas to low-lying areas and valleys. In others, the birds may simply move to nearby habitats that support winter-fruiting plants.
American Robins have many techniques for staying warm when the temperature dips. Like other birds, they can fluff out their feathers to trap a layer of air around their bodies. This layer of air is warmed by their body heat and kept insulated by their plumage.
American Robins maintain a steady body temperature of 104°F (40°C) by metabolizing their food. Their sugar-rich diet of fruits and berries is very helpful for providing extra calories at this time of year.
Nevertheless, these birds may need to eat throughout the day to lay down enough energy reserves to last them the night.
Winter scene of an American Robin foraging for berries
American Robins switch from a diet of insects and invertebrates to a diet of fruits and berries. They do this because insects become scarce and often inaccessible in the winter. Winter fruiting plants provide an easily accessible and energy-rich food source at this time.
The following plant species are valuable winter food sources:
American Robins are not known to store food for the winter.
Robin in the falling snow
American Robins drink water throughout the year, but finding an unfrozen water source can be a challenge in the depths of winter. These birds get much of the water they need from fruits and berries, but they will also eat snow when no liquid water is available.
American Robins will look for unfrozen water sources in the winter. Setting up a heated birdbath can be a great way to provide them with unfrozen water throughout the year.
American Robins rarely visit feeders in the winter because they are looking for fruiting trees and shrubs. They may occasionally feed on fruits and berries set on the ground or in feeders at this time, however. Growing winter fruiting plants or providing a source of fresh liquid water are better options for attracting these birds in the winter.
American Robin drinking water from a puddle in winter
Many birdwatchers will be familiar with seeing American Robins foraging on lawns in the spring and summer. They also call frequently during the warmer months, even before the sun rises in the morning. Read on to learn about how their behavior changes in the winter. Some of these facts may come as a surprise!
Spotting American Robins in winter can be kind of hit-and-miss. The most reliable way to spot them is to visit areas with abundant winter-fruiting plants. These birds can turn up in flocks of hundreds of birds, making for an exciting birdwatching experience.
American Robins remain active in winter, although many birdwatchers believe the birds have disappeared because they leave their breeding territories and singing decreases. Instead of hunting for bugs in parks and backyards where they are particularly visible, the birds team up to form nomadic flocks that search out winter fruiting trees.
American Robins leave our yards and other lawned areas in the winter and become non-territorial. They may begin a long-distance migration or simply move around the local area looking for fruiting plants to feed from.
American Robin standing in the snow
American Robins do not have visibly different winter plumage. Adult birds perform a single complete molt each year from summer to fall. Extra down feathers that are grown in the fall help to keep the birds cozy in the winter, however.
American Robins gather into flocks in the winter. The flocks can be large, consisting of hundreds of birds, although smaller groups of a dozen or so are also common.
American Robins do not nest in winter. These birds nest between April and July in the spring and summer months. The timing varies somewhat depending on the climate in the region, however.
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