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Robins in February.

February 25, 2012

American Robin

February is that month where spring starts stirring, even though it’s not quite here yet.  There are different ways to observe this, but one of the most dependable signs can be seen by watching early territorial behavior by Robins.

When we think of Robins, we often think of them in pairs on lawns, cocking their heads looking for earthworms and insects in the grass.  But this scene is a little ways off in time.  In the cold weather, Robins (like quite a few other species of birds) join together in flocks.  They survive on berries found in bushes in woodlands,  fencerows, or suburbs.  Only when spring stirs once more will they be able to reliably find their classic earthworm meals.

On some February days, you can see Robins looking for insects in mulch.  They will often thoroughly search the ground near buildings, where there is likely to be more bugs nearer to the warm walls.  Sometimes they tear up the ground in their search for food.

Can’t really blame them, I’m sure I’d do the same if I were in their situation 🙂

February for Robins is a transition month for behavior.  The more bold unattached males will strike off from the flocks and set up early territories in choice areas to defend, ready right off the bat to attract a mate.  Others will still be in flocks, searching for insects if the weather isn’t too cold, or berries if it is.

For a few years in a row some time ago, I had a Robin that would set up territory in front of my place, standing on the patio wall, making vigorous noises letting others know that this was HIS area.  He’d chase other males away, his rusty breast puffed out in challenge.  I figured it was the same robin because he would attack his reflection in my glass patio door, year after year.  That guy was really worked up!  The stakes were high!

Last year, I had a Robin set up February territory on my patio that was fairly tame.  I’d go out to leave peanuts and raisins out for him and other birds, and he’d land on the patio table a few feet away from me, waiting for his raisin meal.  Unfortunately, he stopped appearing one day, and across the street I found some robin feathers in the grass- I think the local hawk (A Cooper’s or Sharp-Shinned) got him.  I’m ambivalent about feeding birds because of this hawk, even though he or she has to eat too.

Several years ago, we had a large snowstorm in February, when the berry supply was getting rather scarce.  There was a lot of snow on the ground for a long time.  Robins by the dozen were dying off- you’d find their bodies in the snow.  Some ate raisins that I put out, one even tried to wolf down a shelled peanut (but couldn’t quite get it down).  There’s some peril in February when the weather turns bad, and it’s a high-stakes game setting up an early territory in Ohio.  But the payoff is a better chance of raising young.

So if you like to feed birds, don’t forget Robins- they like the occasional raisin when berries and bugs are scarce.  Maybe they’ll bring their young around for you to see later in the year.

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25 Comments leave one →
  1. February 25, 2012 3:27 pm

    Another excellent post! Loved the robin running with the berry in its beak!

    • February 26, 2012 3:13 pm

      Thanks! That robin was really close to me but started running away by the time I got a photo. If I had a dime for every time I missed a great shot…

  2. February 25, 2012 3:38 pm

    Great post, Tracy. Very informative and entertaining. 🙂

  3. February 25, 2012 4:18 pm

    The robin is Michigan’s state bird. I never knew all this about them. Thanks my friend.

  4. February 25, 2012 5:05 pm

    I hadn’t thought about putting out raisins….thanks for the suggestion. Here in Wisconsin, I’m still waiting to see my lst Robin.

    • February 26, 2012 3:15 pm

      They really enjoy raisins when food is in short supply- I try to make sure the raisins aren’t too dry, they seem to have an easier time eating them when they’re somewhat plump.

  5. February 25, 2012 7:19 pm

    Almost every year we have a robin that tries to build a nest in the curve of the downspout. That usually doesn’t work out very well. Last year was the first time I didn’t see any young robins. You got some great shots.

  6. February 25, 2012 11:12 pm

    I will remember about the raisins if our Robins show up while the weather is still bad.

  7. February 26, 2012 3:48 am

    Really enjoyed this post, and I love your photos – haven’t seen ‘behavioural’ shots of American robins before.

  8. February 26, 2012 9:54 am

    Great, informative post!

  9. February 26, 2012 10:05 am

    Thanks for taking care of robins. The robins will not return to my woodsy world for a few months. And, as I watch it snow this morning with strong snowy winds, I wonder what all the other birds are doing to survive this day. Nice pictures. Robins never let me get that close …. I will have to try a raisin bribe this spring. 😉

    • February 26, 2012 3:20 pm

      Thanks Bearyweather! I have a bit of a soft spot for Robins this time of year, especially when the food supply is low for them.

  10. February 26, 2012 10:19 am

    Gorgeous robin pictures! I think I’m going to add a box of raisins to my shopping list…

  11. February 26, 2012 11:26 am

    Another great post.

  12. February 26, 2012 6:15 pm

    Tracy,
    Your Robins don’t leave for the Winter? We haven’t seen Robins for months and won’t see them until sometime in March. Of course, my husband sees a Robin all year long… LOL 🙂

    • February 26, 2012 8:51 pm

      Hah! Robin, in the Columbus area some Robins winter over because there is a lot of bird-friendly landscaping (berry bushes and so on) here planted by property owners, businesses, universities etc. as well as Honeysuckle bushes that have escaped into the wild. Also, except for the occasional bad year, central Ohio is in a milder weather zone than the northern part of Ohio which gets more snow and adverse weather. So Robins and some other species such as Carolina Wrens take advantage of this and will often stay here year-round. Brightens up the winter a little extra 🙂

  13. February 27, 2012 2:22 am

    Robins are so pretty. You’re so talented with the camera, You’ve captured the beauty and spirit of the birds and the snow perfectly. 🙂

  14. February 27, 2012 4:38 pm

    I love Robins!!

  15. February 28, 2012 4:39 pm

    Wonderful post! You really captured the robins well. 🙂

  16. Chuck permalink
    March 1, 2012 11:48 am

    Great oictures. Yesterday, I was amazed to see a dozen or so robins feeding from an apple tree in the yard in Edmonton, Alberta on February 29. There was about a foot of snow on the ground.

  17. March 3, 2012 8:33 am

    Thanks for the great comments, everyone! 🙂

  18. March 12, 2012 3:15 pm

    So cute!

  19. mary biscuso permalink
    February 10, 2014 3:30 pm

    Aah, this is helpful! Sounds like this guy is feisty, and trying to set up his territory early. He was gone for almost a week, and I was so sad, but now is back.
    I hate to get attached, because, as you say, so many things can go wrong! But I’m rooting for him–at least he has the sense now to stop fighting with his reflection. He just taps on the windows to let us know he’d like more raisins–on the double, if you please!

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