Do Robins Really Return in the Spring

Or Did They Ever Even Really Leave?

Heated Birdbaths provide water for winter wildlife

I’ve been having a lot of conversations on twitter and on Facebook about spring, most of them along the line of  Will it ever get here? It was a very long, cold winter. And the northeast is bracing for another big snowstorm tomorrow, and this is what leads to our feelings of dismay. Will spring EVER come?

But many people have noted that one of their biggest signs that spring really is coming is that the Robins have returned.

But actually, the Robins never really left. They just change their behavior in the winter so we don’t notice them as much.

Every child knows that Robins eat worms. But they also eat lots of other things, too like insects, grubs, and even snails. We tend to notice them around our wildlife gardens because they hunt for these things on the ground. But they also eat fruit, which they search for in trees and shrubs, which is not where we’re used to seeing them.

When winter comes, the worms and insects aren’t as available to them, so during the cold months their diet consists mostly of fruit.

You may not be seeing them in your garden, so you think they’ve gone away, but Robins are year-round residents of the lower 48 states. During the winter months Robins gather together into huge flocks, sometimes numbering hundreds or even thousands of birds.

And they fly around in these flocks in search of fruit. When they find it, the whole flock will descend and strip every berry from the trees and shrubs that they find, often in a single afternoon.

So, if you want to see Robins in winter, plan now to add fruiting and berrying native shrubs and trees to your wildlife garden now. So by next winter you’ll have something to offer these fun and friendly birds.

Good choices include: American Holly (Ilex opaca), Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Cranberry Viburnum (Viburnum trilobum), and Winterberry (Ilex verticillata). Ask at your local native plant nursery which berrying shrubs will work best for the conditions in your garden.

What are the Robins doing in your wildlife garden?

  1. says

    Wow! That’s a question I’ve always wondered about, Carole. Thanks for answering it. I did not know about the flocking and eating fruit, either.

  2. says

    I learned about this just a couple of years ago, when we started using our heated birdbath. Now,they come in droves all winter long, drinking from the watering hole! They even eat from my birdfeeders…trying to find fruit and insects, I’m sure.

  3. says

    This is so timely as I just started seeing robins up here at the 51st parallel this week. I DO take it as a sure sign of spring. Do you think they stay around here in the winter too?

    I always wondered what they eat at this time of year, because even now the ground is still pretty frozen.

    I really enjoy your bird posts Carole!

  4. says

    I have had a robin build above my sliding glass door for two years now In fact last year they built a nest right beside the one that i left from the year before. I had my husband take the swag down that they had built in at the end of the summer. It was pretty worn.
    Needless to say, they sat on the deck rail for days looking up there this year.
    I have a beautiful big grapevine wreath decorated with spring flowers Guess where they decided to build this year? In the wreath. They are amazing to watch everyday, bringing in mud, grass, etc. It’s truly a gift from God watching from the building to when the babies are born. Makes me cry to see the little ones leave the nest.

    • says

      Deborah, that’s so funny that they’ve chosen your wreath. I had Robins one year nesting in a hanging planter right outside the front door, which was weird because she got startled every time we went in or out. Once she was sitting on eggs full time, we even stopped using that door and instead went out the back door and around the house and down the driveway. This of course was not at all convenient for us, but it was a thrill to see all of the babies hatch (from inside the house) and then fly away on fledge day.

  5. freida mccall says

    why don’t you see the robins in the woods during hunting season.(November, December)western Pennsylvania.

  6. Mike says

    Cold snowstorm blowing through right now, and three bright chested robins are hanging out by our window in a bush.

  7. David says

    I am just now starting to see Robins again this spring. Interestingly I have noticed this year and last that they have been eating at my bird feeders, including suet and the seeds that happen to fall to the ground. I always thought they just ate worms and insects. Btw, I am in northern lower Michigan.

  8. Karen Archambault says

    Robins also eat green and red peppers, I threw out a couple that had gone bad and couldnt believe my eyes when the Robins started pecking away at the red pepper.

  9. says

    Hey just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The text iin our post seem to bee ruynning off the screen in Opera.
    I’m not sure if this is a formatting issue or something to do with
    browser compatibility bbut Ifigured I’d post to let you know.
    The dessign look great though! Hope you get the problem resolved soon. Many thanks

  10. Carmelita Rock says

    Jan 17, 2016. Today I saw 2 Robbins outside my kitchen window. We live in LaPorte Indiana. The temp today is 9 degrees.


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