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Welcome to BNA Online, the leading source of life history information for North American breeding birds. This free, courtesy preview is just the first of 14 articles that provide detailed life history information including Distribution, Migration, Habitat, Food Habits, Sounds, Behavior and Breeding. Written by acknowledged experts on each species, there is also a comprehensive bibliography of published research on the species.
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The American Robin is the largest, most abundant, and most widespread North American thrush. The presence of this rather tame songster in the backyard setting, together with its loud and musical voice, makes it one of the most easily recognizable birds in North America. Indeed, “robin red-breast” has been described as “America’s favorite songbird” (Sharp 1990), and its annual arrival in northern latitudes is an early sign of spring. Most people know the robin as a breeding bird of suburbs and farmland, where it forages in moist grass, often tugging at worms on garden lawns, and nests in shade trees.
The extent to which the robin ranges across the North American continent and thrives in both suburban and natural habitats is shared with few other species. The diet of the robin is also highly variable, changing from primarily soft invertebrates, especially earthworms, in spring and summer, to primarily fruit in autumn and winter. During the nonbreeding season, large flocks of hundreds or thousands of immature and adult birds migrate to lower elevations and latitudes, where they form roosting aggregations from which they track sources of berries. At this time, the birds are more wary than they are when on the breeding grounds. Not all robin populations are migratory, however, some spending the winter months close to their breeding grounds.
With a few exceptions, robin populations appear to be increasing or stable throughout North America. Thriving in suburban parks and gardens, the robin has often benefited from urbanization and agricultural development. Early studies of the nesting habits of the robin during the 1940s and 1950s still provide some of the best data available (Howell 1942, Tyler 1949, Young 1955). Other well-studied aspects of robin biology are its diet (Wheelwright 1986), fruit choice (Jung 1992, Willson 1994), mechanisms of fruit selection (Sallabanks 1993a), and geographic variation in size, shape, and plumage (Aldrich and James 1991). The robin has also been the subject of two books (Eiserer 1976, Wauer 1999).