American Robins (Turdus migratorius), are the state bird of Connecticut, Michigan, and Wisconsin and are named after the European Robin because both birds share a red breast. The American robin is not actually related to the European robin, though - they are not even in the same family! As small birds, you might expect American robins to live short lives, so how long do American robins live?
Life is perilous for the American robin, and most won’t see their first birthday. As few as 25% of all American robins survive their first year. The average lifespan of an American robin in the wild is just two years, but the oldest recorded banded robin lived until it was 13 years and 11 months old.
American robins have the potential to live for a long time, providing they survive their first few years.
American robins, like their European friends, are small songbirds. American robins are from the thrush family Turdidae whereas European robins are from the Old World flycatcher family Muscicapidae. However, they do share a lot in common despite being largely unrelated.
Like many other small birds, American robins face a diverse number of threats that tend to cut their lives short. Read on to learn about the lifespan and life expectancy of American robins.
The average lifespan for an American Robin is around two years
American robins are not long-lived birds, but that isn’t so much the fault of their biology as it is pure chance. After all, the American robin is one of the most common back garden birds globally, with a population of some 310 million - so they must be doing something right!
If an American robin survives until its first midwinter, it has an average life expectancy of around 1.7 years. The year on year survival rate is around 50%, so every year, you can pretty much flip a coin to see if an American robin survives or not.
It’s unlikely to find American robins older than around 6 in the wild, but authoritative sources, including Audubon, highlight one case of a wild American robin living for 13 years and 11 months. Evidence of the oldest American robin can be found in the United States Geological Survey’s bird longevity database. The robin in question was banded in California, on 01/11/1962 and found dead on 05/26/1975, making it around 14 years when accounting for how old it was already when it was banded.
One study in 1945 found that the highest life expectancy generally attained in the wild is around 4.5 years, with various individuals living until they were about 6 or 7. Predation and hypothermia are the two biggest killers of robins. Since they’re so small, they face threats from practically every predatory bird and mammal, as well as many reptiles.
American Robin with a caterpillar in its beak
The same 1945 study as above cites an American robin that attained the age of 12.9 years in captivity - the true figure is likely higher.
Various anecdotal reports mention that ages of 15 to 17 years or more are possible, but there’s really no solid figure for how long American robins live in captivity.
It certainly seems likely that a captive robin would live for longer than it would in the wild (around 13.9 years). The main thing is virtually all captive robins will make it past their first birthday, which is unlikely to happen in the wild. As mentioned, as few as 25% of wild robins survive their first winter.
Only 40% of American robin nests successfully produce young that go on to fledge, and just 25% of robins survive their first winter. Nests fail for a variety of reasons, such as adverse weather and predation. When there are unfledged birds in the nest when it fails, then they will almost certainly all die.
Most robins die from hypothermia, predation and diseases, including parasites. For example, one study found that some 77% of robins are infected by one type of endoparasite.
Close up of a juvenile American Robin
American robin couples can have as many as three broods in a year, which is necessary due to their low average survival rate. They only lay 3 to 5 eggs, which is fewer than many other songbirds.
American robins don’t usually live for long, but by raising three broods, the species itself is well-maintained. In fact, populations of American robins might number some 500 million by some estimates, and their populations are increasing in most areas. Despite their high death rates, robins are excellent at surviving as a species.
Recently fledged American Robin chick
American robins are preyed upon by a huge range of predators, both on land and in the air. One study in Michigan found that some 28 raptors prey upon robins, including virtually all hawks, owls and falcons and even eagles. Even the tiny Pygmy owl preys on robins!
This doesn’t mean that robins are an easy target - they’re actually swift and reactive. They are not alone in this regard either - many of America’s small songbirds face the same threats as the American robin.
American Robin perched in a Holly Tree
Sources cite that the oldest wild robin was 13 years and 11 months old.
Finding the source of this information takes some digging - it can be found in the United States Geological Survey’s bird longevity database. The robin was banded in California, on 01/11/1962 and found dead on 05/26/1975. Since it was banded as a juvenile, this made it approximately 14 years old.
There are various anecdotes of captive robins living longer - sometimes as long as 17 years, but there is no real concrete evidence of this.
Robins, like most birds, will try to feed for a good portion of the day every day. Baby robins need to eat every 15 minutes or so. Once grown, American robins will forage for much of the day. If they don’t eat for around 24 hours, they may become lethargic.
American Robin singing, perched on a backyard fence
American robins breed in the north of the USA and Canada, right up to some of the most northern regions of Alaska. Some populations are resident and sedentary across the USA and Mexico, but those who breed further north will always migrate.
In the winter, they migrate through much of the USA towards Mexico. Whilst it’s tempting to assume that robins migrate to warmer areas, they usually stop as soon as they can find enough food.
This does depend on the subspecies - there are seven altogether, and some are more cold-hardy than others, like the Northwestern and Newfoundland robins that breed in Canada.
For more information about robins in the winter, check out this guide.
American Robin perched on a post during a snow storm
Overall, American robins can certainly withstand freezing temperatures and do so by puffing up their feathers. Even in freezing temperatures, a healthy robin’s internal body temperature is still around 104F (40C). Their feathers are exceptionally well insulated.
Some populations of American robins become increasingly social in winter, and they often roost communally in the treetops. Roosts may contain a few dozen or even hundreds of birds. Communal roosting, which is essentially huddling, helps the robins preserve body heat.
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