Robins In Winter Time: Tips On Helping Robins Overwinter In The Garden

By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

Many of us in certain regions consider the robinan indicator of spring. Once they return to an area, the tides have turned andthe warm sunshine is only a blink away. Robins in other areas are year-roundresidents and may need a bit of help during the winter. Helping robinsoverwinter is important because the population of these birds is on thedecline. Keep reading to learn what to feed winter robins and help preservethese beautiful birds.

How to Help Robins in My Yard

Glorious inhabitants of our backyards and open spaces, thesecommon red-breasted birds may overwinter in cold regions or go to warmerclimates. In areas where they stay for the cold season, robins in winter mayneed a little help with food and habitation. Some tips on how to help winterrobins will help preserve these lovely birds and give you a close up look attheir breeding and life cycles.

Most of us have observed these cheerful birds pulling wormsfrom our sod or gardens. Robins are fairly hardy birds but do require a largeamount of food to get through winter. Helping robins in winter is easy andkeeps bird watchers happily occupied as they note the various stages of thebird’s life.

The first details on how to help winter robins arehabitation and a steady food supply. Once you have these in place, the birdswill stick around and give you a bird’s eye view of their daily activities.Watching birds is a peaceful and Zen occupation that every member of the familycan enjoy.

What to Feed Winter Robins

If you are in a region where the birds stay for winter, foodis of primary importance. Their usual meal is probably frozen and hard toaccess. Setting up food stations benefits robins as well as any other birdsthat stay during the cold season. Food is more important right now thananything else for robins, as it helps fuel their metabolism and keep them warmwhile building fat storage.

Robins will feed on any berriesthat remain on bushes and vines. When they can get them, robins will snackon insects and worms. Standard bird seed does not seem to attract them, asthese birds prefer a varietal diet of live insects and fruit. Placing fruitoutdoors will help sustain robins but may attract other animals. Put anyofferings up high where only the birds can access the snacks.

Tips on Helping Robins Overwinter

Robins will use a platform to build their nests. You canfind many simple plans for a bird platform online or develop your own. Itdoesn’t have to be fancy, just an elevated space with a bit of board will do.The birds will be attracted to a roost where they can situate their nest forthe spring breeding season.

Outside of providing fruit and nesting space, keep fresh,unfrozen water available. They like to bathe frequently. In extreme cold, thereare heated units to put in the birdbath. The water will remain liquid and at atemperature that delights the birds.

Helping robins overwinter gives the birder a uniqueopportunity to take photos and observe these animals in action. To keep themsafe, do not use pesticides in the lawn. This can contaminate their naturalfood source and harm the birds.

Prevent competitive species in spring when they are nesting.These include jays, crows, and hawks. Do not feed such potentially damaginganimals. If you have a cat, create a high birdhouse for the birds out ofkitty’s reach. Around April, mating pairs will begin making a nest and layingeggs. This is a time to be especially vigilant, so the babies can grow upsafely.

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Birds You Can See in Winter

Novice backyard birders often assume that there are no birds around to enjoy during the coldest months, and may even put feeders and baths away to wait until spring. In fact, there are many beautiful winter birds that may normally be found only in far northern habitats but readily visit backyards when the snow flies, along with familiar year-round residents. Backyards can be essential for winter birds and provide necessary food and water when natural resources are at their scarcest.

Storing Birdseed

It is best to stock up on birdseed in the fall when many lawn and garden centers are discounting seed to make way for winter merchandise. Stored properly, seed can easily last for months, particularly seed mixes and sunflower seeds.

To properly store seed, it should be kept in a cool, dry place that is protected from bugs and rodents. Choose a storage bin that will be easy to access all winter and one that can be easily manipulated while wearing gloves and bulky coats. Have a large scoop on hand to easily refill feeders, and you'll use more seed than you realize to sate birds' winter appetites and you'll be glad you had the extra storage.

What To Feed Winter Robins – Caring For Robins In My Yard Through Winter - garden

Making Sense of Robin Migration

American robins wintering in Canada and the northernmost states? How can that be? Don't they all go south?

Many scientists say the American Robin's spring migration follows the "line" formed by 36 degree average temperatures. (See Spring Fever lesson.) Yet it's clearly colder than that where many individuals and flocks spend the winter. Are the scientists wrong?

Robin migration can seem a bit confusing. Take a look at these facts and then think about the questions that follow.

The three maps above are from the spring 2007 season's robin migration. (Click for larger versions.) If some robins spend winter moving around northern locations, how can we possibly track their migration? When we look at a Journey North map, we have to pay attention to two things:
  • Where the dots are (called "distribution")
  • How many dots are in each place (called "abundance")

  1. What patterns do you notice as the migration progresses?
  2. What does it "tell" you about the progression of the migration?
  3. In what ways is the migration's pattern unclear?

The migration's progress is definitely not clear or certain. However, following the real-time maps does reveal where most migrating robins are moving from week to week. You'll find a step-by-step tutorial for interpreting robin migration maps here:

  • For a step-by-step tutorial see: Analyzing Robin Maps
"First Singing" Robins: A Clearer Pattern

Because robins sing when they arrive on their breeding territories, our map that shows the first singing robins is always the clearest migration pattern. Robins sometimes sing before and during migration, as they switch to spring migratory restlessness and territoriality from winter feeding and flocking behaviors. However, while some robins may produce their first songs on their wintering grounds, the vast majority wait until they are actually back on territory before singing. (After all, the reason songs work so well for defending territories is that male robins feel stressed when they hear other robins sing, so singing serves to break up winter and migratory flocks.)

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