American robin (Turdus migratorius)

Also known as: San Lucas robin
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyTurdidae
GenusTurdus (1)
SizeLength: 20 - 28 cm (2)
Wingspan: 31 - 40 cm (2)
Weight59 - 94 g (3)

The American robin is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Described as “America’s favourite songbird” (4), the American robin (Turdus migratorius) is one of the most abundant, widespread and instantly recognisable birds in North America (2) (3) (4). It is popular for its warm orange breast and cheerful song, and as an early herald of spring (2) (4).

North America’s largest thrush species (2) (4), the American robin is a relatively large songbird with a rounded body, long legs and a fairly long tail (2). The adult male is greyish-brown above, with rich orange underparts and a black and white streaked throat. The head is dark, with a contrasting white crescent above and below the eye, and there is a white patch on the lower belly. Some populations of the American robin have white tips to the otherwise dark tail. The beak of this species is yellow, often with a darker tip, and the legs and feet are brown (2) (3) (4).

The female American robin is paler than the male, particularly on the head, and its white parts are more buff-coloured. Juveniles are distinguished by the large black spots on the breast, pale spots and streaks on the upperparts, an entirely white throat and a pinkish beak. The head is generally paler than in the adult, with less well-defined white crescents around the eyes, but there may be a buffy-white line above the eye (2) (3) (4).

The American robin varies in size and colouration across its large range, and seven subspecies are recognised (2) (3) (4), with the highly distinctive Turdus migratorius confinis sometimes being treated as a separate species (3). In general, western populations are paler than eastern ones and have almost no white on the corners of the tail (2) (4).

The song of the American robin is a familiar sound of late winter and early spring in North America, and this species is usually one of the first birds to sing in the morning and one of the last to sing in the evening. Its musical song consists of a variable series of loud, rich, liquid-sounding syllables, each rising and falling in pitch and repeated at a steady rhythm, often described as ‘cheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up’. The American robin also gives a variety of calls, including a spirited ‘cuck’, ‘chirp’, ‘chuck’ or ‘yeep’, as well as a repeated ‘chirr’ that rises in pitch and volume, sounding somewhat like a laugh. It also produces a high, thin, whining whistle (2) (3) (4).

The American robin breeds throughout most of North America, from Alaska and Canada south through the United States and into Mexico. Although some populations may stay close to the breeding grounds year-round, most from the northernmost parts of the range migrate south to spend the winter in the United States and Central America. These migrants occur as far south as Guatemala, and also winter in the Caribbean, including Cuba, the Bahamas and Bermuda (2) (3) (4) (5).

Occasional vagrant American robins have been recorded to the east of the Americas, in Greenland, Iceland, the United Kingdom and parts of mainland Europe (3) (4) (5).

Although best known as a bird of gardens, parks, yards and golf courses in urban areas, the American robin also inhabits woodland, forest, shrubland, fields, pastures, farmland, mountains, tundra, and forests that are regenerating after fires or logging (2) (3) (4) (5). This species usually nests in areas where lawns or other areas of short grass are interspersed with shrubs or trees (3) (4).

In winter, the American robin is generally found in a similar range of habitats, but usually at lower elevations. Many American robins spend the winter in forest, woodland, or on pastures and lawns, usually in areas with a ready supply of fruit-bearing plants (3) (4).

The diet of the American robin varies seasonally, consisting primarily of invertebrates in spring and summer, and fruit in autumn and winter (2) (3) (4). In addition to a large number of earthworms, this species takes an assortment of insect prey (2) (3), as well as spiders, snails, and even occasionally small vertebrates such as shrews or snakes (2). It also eats a large variety of fruits and berries, including those of junipers (Juniperus), dogwood (Cornus), sumac (Rhus) and chokecherries (Prunus virginiana) (2) (3) (4).

The American robin generally forages on the ground, and is often seen bounding across lawns before pausing and standing erect, or staring at the ground with the head cocked to one side as it searches for worms. Prey may also be gleaned from vegetation, and fruits are plucked from plants or eaten from the ground. In autumn and winter, the American robin may congregate in large flocks to roost. These flocks may number into the thousands, and help individuals to track sources of fruit (2) (3) (4).

In spring, the male American robin establishes a territory and attempts to attract a mate by singing, raising and spreading the tail, shaking the wings and inflating the striped throat (2). The breeding season runs from April to mid-August (3) (4), and it is the female that chooses the nest site and builds the nest. Usually placed in a tree, or sometimes on the ground or on a building, the nest consists of a deep cup of dead grass, twigs, roots, feathers and moss, reinforced on the inside with soft mud gathered from worm castings, and lined with fine, dry grass (2) (3) (4).

The eggs of the American robin are sky-blue or blue-green and are incubated for 12 to 14 days. Clutch size is usually three to five (2) (3) (4). Both adults help feed the young, which leave the nest after around 9 to 16 days (3) (4), but are dependent on the adults for a further 3 weeks (3). This species often raises two or even three broods each year (2) (3) (4), although many young are lost to predators such as snakes, rodents and other birds (3). The American robin first breeds at a year old, and has been recorded living to nearly 14 years in the wild (2) (3) (4).

The American robin is the most abundant and widespread thrush in North America (3) (4) and is not currently considered at risk of extinction (5). Its population appears to be stable or increasing throughout most of its range (2) (3) (4) (5), in part because this species thrives in urban areas and often benefits from urbanisation and the spread of agriculture (2) (3) (4).

Although there are currently no major threats to the American robin, its habit of foraging on lawns and fields does make it vulnerable to pesticide poisoning (2). Chemicals such as DDT can persist in the soil for decades, where they are taken up by earthworms and passed to feeding robins. These chemicals may kill the American robin directly or reduce its breeding success (3) (4). Large-scale poisoning events have killed large numbers of American robins in the past (4), with up to 10,000 killed by an application of the pesticide Azodrin to a single field in Florida in 1972 (3).

The American robin is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS or Bonn Convention), which aims to conserve migratory species throughout their range (6). However, there are not known to be any specific conservation measures currently targeting this common and widespread thrush.

Management measures for the American robin population have focused primarily on reducing the damage this species causes to commercial fruit crops. This usually involves netting, shooting, the use of chemicals, or techniques to scare the birds (3) (4). Due to its susceptibility to pesticide poisoning, the American robin can be useful as an indicator of chemical pollution in the environment (2) (4).

Find out more about the American robin and its conservation:

More information on bird conservation in the Americas:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds - American robin (March, 2011)
    http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/american_robin/id
  3. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Christie, D. (2005) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 10: Cuckoo-Shrikes to Thrushes. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  4. Sallabanks, R. and James, F.C. (1999) American robin (Turdus migratorius). In: Poole, A. (Ed.) The Birds of North America Online. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca. Available at:
    http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/462/
  5. BirdLife International (March, 2011)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=6444
  6. Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (March, 2011)
    http://www.cms.int/