Is there anyone in North America who is not familiar with the American Robin? This member of the thrush family is one of our most common birds, rivaling the European Starling and Red-winged Blackbird in abundance. Depending on the season, it can be seen throughout the continental U.S. and in Canada and Alaska. So, why bother to photograph and post a species so familiar to so many?
The sight of a robin methodically working across a summer lawn, hopping, stopping and cocking its head before spearing a worm was, for the longest time, the extent of my knowledge of the diet and feeding habits of robins. A rural, outdoor lifestyle in the snow belt changed that. I discovered that some robins don’t migrate in winter. Those that do migrate arrive, like the Red-winged Blackbirds, as “harbingers of spring”, perhaps weeks before ground feeding becomes an option. This is a case of the early bird not getting the worm, not under several inches of snow in frozen ground. So, what do large numbers of robins feed on in the off-season?
In March, flocks of migrating robins are seen in brushy fields, forest edges, backyards – places where the fruit of shrubs and small trees has persisted through the winter. This might include native vines and shrubs like wild grapes and the sumacs, or cultivated trees like certain cultivars of flowering crabapple.
American Robin feeding on the persistent fruit of a native shrub, Staghorn Sumac,
A close friend and former colleague has thickets of Staghorn Sumac growing behind his house and barn, just beyond the managed portion of the property. Dozens of robins, as well as starlings and other species, descend on these large, wild shrubs every March and devour the persistent fruits in a few days time.
I spent a couple of hours watching this spectacle, learning and laughing as I tried to capture the acrobatic feeding behavior of 15 to 20 American Robins and European Starlings. The March Robins photo gallery tells the story of that experience.
All photos by NB Hunter