American Robins are easily one of the most recognizable common backyard birds across North America. Known for their beautiful songs, this largest thrush species of North America can be highly aggressive towards other birds, particularly during the breeding season, when protecting their territories.
So do robins mate for life? How do they form a breeding pair? Read on to find out all about the mating habits of American Robins.
Like many backyard songbirds, the American robin does not mate for life. They generally remain monogamous with their chosen partner throughout the breeding season. However, once the breeding season has passed, males and females go their separate ways.
It is often considered to occur by chance when robins mate more than once with a previous partner. Because males and females commonly return to the same breeding territory, birds can pair up in consecutive seasons.
This is not indicative of lifelong partnerships, though. More often than not, a robin will choose a new mate nearly every year. In this article, we will discuss American robin courtship, pair bonding, and mating behavior in more detail. Read on to discover more!
American Robins don't mate for life
The male American robin sings to advertise that he is looking for a mate. Female robins are drawn in by the male’s song and generally choose their partner based on coloration. Females seem to prefer males who have a similar breast color to themselves.
Parental care appears to factor into mate choice also. Female American Robins prefer males who are attentive to their young and frequently chose to mate with such males for consecutive seasons.
American Robin males sing to advertise that he is looking for a mate
Singing, which usually takes place at dawn, initiates courtship behavior. Once the male has attracted a female, he then performs a strutting courtship display, dancing around the female on the ground.
During this display, the male shakes his wings, flares and raises his tail, and inflates his throat. Copulation typically follows this mating dance.
A behavior known as Ceremonial Gaping is also associated with courtship behavior. Ceremonial Gaping occurs when the male and female approach and touch one another with open bills. Courtship feeding also commonly occurs during this mating ritual.
American Robin eating Black Hawthorn berries amongst the leaves
Although American robins do not mate for life, mated pairs are typically monogamous throughout the breeding season. Pair formation occurs in early spring, shortly after both males and females have reached their nesting territories.
Overall, males reach their breeding grounds a few days before females.
Extra-pair copulation and paternity are common amongst high densities of American robin populations. Broods can contain young from more than one male. However, this is usually only common with the first brood of the season.
By the second and third clutches, the female will typically have chosen to be monogamous with the male that provides the best parental care.
American Robin pars remain monogamous during the breeding season, and may raise up to three broods
American robins are known to nest at least twice, or even three times, during one breeding season.
Egg laying for these songbirds typically begins in early April, with the incubation and nestling period taking about two and a half to three months. This leaves robins plenty of time for a second or even third nest.
The robin’s ability to reproduce does decline significantly by July. However, pairs are known to nest as late as fall or winter.
When a robin’s mate dies, it will find a new mate. Depending on whether the deceased partner was male or female, another bird of the same sex will move into the newly available territory. The surviving resident bird will likely choose the newcomer as its mate.
If the robin’s partner died early in the breeding season, the widowed bird may find a new mate and raise a clutch in the same year.
American Robin perched on the branch of a tree
American robins do not migrate solely with their partner. However, their breeding season mate may be a part of the same migratory flock.
During nesting season, robins are extremely territorial and do not usually socialize with birds other than their mate. However, outside of this season, the American robin is quite social.
Before migration, several individual birds usually flock together for travel and foraging.
It is possible that robins mourn the loss of a mate. However, they do not appear to exhibit behaviors often labeled as grieving in other birds - such as those that mate for life. It is difficult to know what mourning looks like for avians, though.
Studies show that birds generally have the capacity to mourn, but labeling these behaviors with certainty is a slippery slope since we do not know how the bird is feeling.
A pair of American Robins foraging on the grass together
American robins do not stay together as a family outside of the breeding season. Fledglings leave the nest four to five weeks after hatching, and mates only stay together for the nesting season duration.
Although robins do not mate for life, a pair may mate for consecutive seasons. This often occurs when the same male and female return to the same territory year after year. It is also thought that females may choose to re-mate with a male based on his parental care.
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