American robins are one of the United States’ most widespread birds, as well as one of the most unmistakable.
Males have a distinctive bright orange-red breast that makes them instantly recognizable. Female American robins are also fairly easy to identify, and although they too have the characteristic orange breast feathers, they are more muted and faded in overall appearance, with some describing their plumage as “washed out” in comparison to the more vibrant males.
Despite the clear differences in the brightness of plumage, male and female American robins do share many similarities: both males and females are fiercely territorial and protective over their young, both have a reputation of being friendly and sociable around humans, and both can be regularly spotted foraging for earthworms and beetles on lawns and in backyard flower beds.
Read on to learn more about female American robins, their appearance, behavior, and roles and duties in raising their young.
Close up of a female American Robin
When standing side by side, it is easy to tell the difference between male and female American robins. Males have a more vibrant plumage, with a brighter orange-red breast and back and wing feathers that are a deep black. Female robins have a duller appearance, with more subdued coloring; their breast feathers are a paler orange, and their wings and back are more of a charcoal color than black.
American robins are the largest member of the thrush family native to the United States, with both males and females being a similar size, although male American robins are also generally slightly larger than females. However, egg-bearing females may be larger than males immediately prior to laying.
Female American Robin
Male American Robin
Although significantly duller in color than males, female American robins do have orange-red breasts that instantly identify the species. The female robin’s breast and throat are streaked with paler, whitish feathers, rather than being the bold, rusty red shade of the male’s.
A female American robin’s back and wing feathers are a brownish-gray, in contrast to the darker black of a male.
Female robins have dark brown irises, surrounded by a slight ring of pale feathers. They have light brown legs and feet. Their beaks are pale yellow, often with a slight black tip at the end.
On average, an adult female American robin weighs from 59 to 94 g (2.1 to 3.3 oz), measures between 23 to 28 cm (10 to 11 in) in length, and has a wingspan of between 30 and 40 cm (12 and 16 in). Females are typically smaller in size and weight than males.
A female American Robin on the ground, foraging for food
Female American robins do have reddish breasts, but they are a duller shade when compared to the bright orange-red associated with the males of the species.
Despite their reputation as friendly, cheerful garden companions, both male and female American robins can be extremely aggressive towards other birds or potential threats.
Male American robins are highly territorial and will fiercely defend their home turf against incursions from competing males. Females are particularly defensive and protective of their young and nest site.
Female American Robin perched in a juniper tree
Male American robins are very vocal birds, a trait that is certainly shared by the females of the species. Both sexes produce a shrill, threatening alarm call in response to the presence of predators. Incubating females also make an aggressive “clacking” sound, if they sense that their nest site is in danger.
However, next time you hear the familiar, early morning “cheerily cheer up” song commonly associated with American robins, if you look closely, you’ll notice the vocalist is a male bird, as the females do not sing this particular tune.
Female American robins take the leading role in choosing a nesting spot and the subsequent nest construction, with males assisting occasionally with collecting nesting materials. Females tend to work alone on crafting the nest.
The distinctive “robin egg blue” color of an American robin’s eggs comes from a substance called biliverdin, created by the breakdown of hemoglobin in the female robin’s blood.
Once the eggs are laid, incubation of the clutch is the job of the female, but both parents will share intensive feeding duties once the chicks have hatched.
Male robins will take on the care duties of their young for around three weeks after they initially fledge, as by this point females are typically already busy incubating a subsequent clutch of eggs.
A female American Robin incubating the eggs in the nest
American robins can engage in courtship feeding displays, with males presenting food to attract a potential mate. Female robins follow the same diet as males, feeding on earthworms, insects, and berries.
Both males and females are active foragers. Mated pairs tend to roughly divide a territory in half and each will stick to its own particular side when feeding.
Male American robins are well known for coming together overnight in vast communal roosts, with hundreds or even thousands of birds roosting together in treetop sites.
During nesting season, males will join these roosts alone, later accompanied by juvenile birds. However, outside of nesting season, female American robins will also join these roosts, swelling the numbers yet further.
American Robin female stood on the grass
Although female American robins do incubate their eggs without any involvement from males, once the chicks hatch, males play an indispensable role in raising the young. While hatchlings are in the nest, males and females take turns to feed them, with up to 150 feeding visits to the nest each day. Both parents fiercely protect the nest site from the unwanted attention of predators.
After fledgling American robins first leave the nest, it is the male rather than the female that provides support to their young, protecting them for the first three weeks of their life. By this point, females are likely to have begun incubation duties for a subsequent clutch of eggs.
Young female American Robin perched on a branch
Male robins are generally larger than females by a couple of centimeters, as well as being several grams heavier. An exception is females that are about to lay their eggs; egg-bearing females may be temporarily larger than their male counterparts.
The female American robin is known as a hen. Male robins are called cocks.
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