This webcam is set up over a hanging planter next to our front door. Although the Robin leaves the nest whenever we go in or out, the sitting parent will always return. This is actually a successful strategy for the bird as a lot of other robin nests in more natural settings have been destroyed by chipmunks and other predators.
Why the light? This nest is right next to our front door which we cannot always avoid using. Since she flies off every time we use the door, even at night, the light guides her back. The nest was built even though a porch light is on a for most of the evening until about midnight. We added a small white LED light to help color rendition in the shadows where the nest is located and also to guide her back in the event that she is frightenedd off the nest later in the night.
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
The American Robin is a large Thrush between 8 and 11 inches in length. Wingspan is 12 to 16 inches. The typical Thrush characteristic is the throat which is streaked longitudinally with white and black stripes. Other body and plumage characteristics are a black or dark gray head with a broken white eye ring, a rust colored breast, a thin yellow bill, gray upper body, gray wings, and reddish-brown legs and feet. The male is somewhat larger than the female and the female tends to a duller shade of the signature “red breast.”
The American Robin is truly an American species with a range that extends from Northern Canada and Alaska all the way to Guatemala in Central America. Although typically considered the common bird of the suburban yard living among shade trees and ornamental plantings, the widespread range indicates this species is adaptable to a wide variety of habitat types as well as a wide variety of acceptable diets.
Here in New York, robins begin nesting in April or May. The nest is a substantial structure made of grasses, twigs, feathers, and a lining of mud to hold everything together. The durability of the construction is evident as a nest that eventually falls from a tree may survive the fall intact. Nests may by built on the limb of a deciduous tree high above the ground and quite exposed. Others, as with our webcam nest are inside shrubs and evergreens quite low to the ground. They will also build nests on window ledges or decorative items which provide a platform on the side of a house. They are tolerant of nearby human activity and will flush as a human comes near, but quickly return to the nest. Robins lay from 3 to 5 eggs which have a color named after them “Robin’s Egg Blue.” They hatch in about two weeks. Robin will bring up two or even three broods in a season.
Bringing up baby
Our robin nest appears to have three baby robins. This is a more manageable size brood, but larger numbers quickly outgrow the nest. Both parents care for the brood, although the female appears to do most of the incubation and nest sitting. The male does bring food and help remove the feces which are expelled often directly into a parent’s waiting beak. The parent drops the fecal sac some distance from the nest. It is common that only two of the original brood will leave the nest in a condition ready fly and follow the parents. The weaker siblings generally are pushed from the nest before they can survive outside the nest. It is for this reason that one rarely sees a pair of robins on a suburban lawn caring for more than two young robins. The young that have fledged successfully resemble the parents but have short tails and a spotted and duller rust colored breast. The young that have fallen from the nest are the surplus production of young that are often found by children as abandoned nestlings. Contrary to some “expert advice” many of these truly are abandoned and provide some young children with guidance from caring adults an entry into the field of wildlife rehabilitation. It should be noted that licensed wildlife rehabilitators could not possibly deal with the numbers of abandoned baby robins that are found, but they can be raised successfully on a diet of a gruel made by soaking puppy chow kibbles. The internet provides many references to techniques for raising orphaned baby birds. Many inexperienced people observe parent robins feeding their young large earthworms. In some areas, this is an important food source but it can be misleading. In wet years when earthworms are abundant as a food source, the survival of young robins can be lower than normal years that require a more varied food source that includes insects and berries. The reason for this became obvious after necropsy of baby robins that had died but seemed otherwise to be eating well. The culprit turned out to be a parasite known as a gape worm. This Y shaped worm grows in the pharynx of the bird and results in breathing difficulty and eventual asphyxiation of the young bird. The parasite worm is transmitted by the consumption of earthworms.
As noted above, Robins are typically though of as eating earthworms on suburban lawns.
They appear to be listening for worms as they patrol a lawn and cock their heads to one side. Actually, they may be looking as worms will sometimes be close to the surface and still within the thatch layer of grass especially in the early morning hours when hunting is best. The robin sees the thatch move and stabs through the thatch to grab the earthworm.
In fact, the robin’s diet is more varied. They eat a wide variety of insects and they are especially fond of berries. Frustrated strawberry growers may find many fruits pecked open by the neighborhood robins. Other favorites include highbush blueberry, wild grape, blackberries, and even poison ivy.
The robin has distinctive and melodic songs which are heard at different times of day and often at the onset of inclement weather. Check out the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology Library of Recorded Birdsongs to hear the song.