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self portrait - circa 1996


Got Robins?

Perhaps Eastern Bluebirds, too?  You're probably not alone!

Dear Friends:

Because of the dozen or so phone calls we receive nearly every day this winter about overwintering American robins, I decided to do an Internet search to see if others had been experiencing the same thing - what I found was over 20-pages of reference on the subject in just “Google” alone.

American Robin by Roger ErikssonThe question asked most often is, “What are the robins eating if the ground is snow covered and they cannot find worms?” Robins are mainly fruit eaters in winter and will often be seen flocking with the magnificent cedar waxwing, whose diet is also fruit. Birds observe each other foraging for food and regularly join them (if it appears a jackpot has been uncovered).

If you are wondering how you can help robins that stay the winter, there are several things you can do: 1) Robins also require more water than other songbirds so a heated birdbath would be very attractive, and appreciated.  2) growing fruit producing trees and shrubs is the best way to create fruit-eating-friendly habitat. Some of the best varieties for northern climes are: highbush cranberry, bittersweet, blueberry, arrow-wood viburnum, black chokeberry, alternate-leaved and silky dogwood, American elderberry, nannyberry, black cherry, and serviceberry. All of these species are native plants, and help maintain a sound environment for you and our wildlife. 

Robins are not seedeaters but they have been seen eating one of our quality seed blends called “No-Mess Mix™” when offered on a large platform feeder. No-Mess™ is a mixture of seeds that have had the hard outer shell removed making it easier for robins to consume. Robins will also eat mealworms. One of our customers placed a shallow dish of mealworms off to one side of his heated birdbath and added chopped red grapes and a little oat bran; the heated bath kept the mealworms active and this attracted the attention of a large flock of robins and a few eastern bluebirds, too! We have live and dry-roasted mealworms in small cups to 1,000-count sacks if you would like to try this yourself.

Many people have reported seeing “bulky” robins, that the robins appear larger than the summer robins, and brighter. The larger size is an illusion-the birds are fluffed up with a dense lining of down to insulate against the cold, and I think they naturally seem brighter against the drab winter backdrop. I read that most robins overwintering appear to be male but have been unable to find expert evidence to substantiate this claim. Look out your window and see for yourself; I would appreciate your comments on this.

[American robin photo above by Roger Eriksson, nature photographer from Holly, MI.]  
Louise Dawson

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J.J. Cardinal's Wild Bird & Nature Store ®
12830 S. Saginaw Street, Grand Blanc, Michigan   810-695-8733
posted 03/03/03; illustrations, text & fun © J.J. Cardinal's 1992-2003
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