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American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

The North American Robin, or American Robin is one of the most widely distributed birds in North America. A truly adaptable bird, the Robin is just at home in major cities as it is in remote wilderness. Classified as a migratory songbird, you can normally find the Robin bounding across lawns or gardens searching for worms.

The American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

Identification

The American Robin is one of the easiest birds to identify. Ranging from 23–28 cm (10–11 in) long, they have a dark head, dark wings with the back side of the tail feathers also being dark. Their lower belly and undertail is white with specks of black. The most notable feature is the bright reddish-orange breast, which the Robin is most noted for.

Males and females are very similar in both size and color, with the female tending to be duller in colours.

The Robin's song raises and falls in tone at a steady rhythm. The song is frequently defined as sounding like “cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up”.

Habitat and Behaviour

Generally, you can find Robins anywhere in North America where there is an abundance of insects and berries. Although they are known as heralds of spring, some Robin’s winter where they were born and do not migrate. Most Robins in the colder climates of the Northern US and Canada will migrate to the Southern US, Mexico and the Pacific Coast.

The American Robin begins to breed in early spring and can have 2 to 3 broods between April and August. The nest is often located 1-5 meters for the ground in the dense brush or foliage of a tree. They will also nest in sheltered man made objects like under the overhang of a roof or in a wheel well of derelict car. Eggs will hatch after two weeks and the chicks will quickly fly out of the nest 14 days after they hatch. Both the male and female take part in tending the chick until they leave the nest.

Robin feeding young
American Robin feeding young. Photo taken from my back deck using a 300mm lens.

Diet

The American Robin is fairly adaptable in its diet, eating many small insects, fruit and berries. In the spring and summer months they tend to eat mostly insects, concentrating on earthworms, grubs and caterpillars. In fall and winter they eat typically eat berries and fruits. Curiously, they will sometime eat large amounts of fermented berries causing them to get intoxicated.

Viewing and Photography

Because of their abundance and relative ease around humans, The American Robin makes a great bird for both viewing and photography. Most times you will have to look no further than your backyard or local park to find one. Because most Robins will let you get relatively close without flying away, a telephoto lens of 200-300 mm is usually adequate. That would be a zoom of about 6-8X for those of you with a point and shoot camera. Robins make excellent practice subjects when learning bird photography, as you will be able to learn the basics without having to leave your neighbourhood for a subject.

The nest and young can easily be found by simply observing the parent birds in the spring. A Robin with a beak full of worms or grubs is usually on its ways back to the nest. Simply observe the area that the robin fly’s too. If the Robin refuses to move when it has food in its beak, it means that you’re too close. It won’t fly back to the nest until it feels you’re a safe distance way.

Because nests are typically relatively close to ground, you can usually find good vantages for taking photographs. You should, of course, never get close enough to disturb the nest in any way. To do this, you should use a telephoto lens of at least 300mm as this will let you get excellent photographs without bothering the nest. Because Robins tend to make their nest in shady areas, you may also need the external flash on your camera to properly light the area. Using ladders (at a distance) will let you take photographs of the action happening in the nest. Try not to be the bird paparazzi and only take only few photographs at any one time, to limit the amount of disturbance you cause the nest.

Young Robin
American Robin chick almost ready to leave its nest.

 

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