They’re known as the harbingers of spring and I spotted four of them last week.
Yes, the American Robin has returned to the Lehigh Valley, although some do stay in the area year-round.
It’s been said robins return from their overwintering spots in Mexico and southern areas when daytime temperatures average around 37 degrees. And March is their prime migration time.
With rains, warmer temperatures and the ground softening, earth worms are closer to the surface and make it easier for robins to find them. And they are one of robins’ favorite food items although they also consume fruits, chokeberries, hawthorn, dogwood, sumac and juniper berries.
When looking for worms, they can be seen staring at the ground momentarily then cocking their heads to one side, then running a few steps to another spot on the grass and repeat the stare. It’s been long debated as to whether robins hear worms when they cock their heads or see them in the grass.
Robins customarily sing in the morning hours and in the evening, well beyond other birds. Their robust songs take on the cadence of “Cher-up, Cheer-up, cheerily.”
The “Redbreast,” as it’s sometimes called because of its reddish-orange breast on the male, arrive here to mate and have their young, although they breed only rarely in the Deep South according to the Audubon Society.
It’s been written that robin courtship often takes on the look of their wings shaking, tail fully spread and its throat inflated, the latter is a trait of other birds even gamebirds like Pennsylvania’s own ruffed grouse. And lots of singing.
Nest building begins shortly after arrival and consists of pressing dead grasses and twigs into a cup shape using one wing. Inside the nest is usually paper, string, feathers or moss. She forms the nest by turning around to shape it to her contour, then pushes her chest down to make it solid. She’ll reinforce it with soft mud and mud from worm castings to further fortify the nest. She then lines the nest with finer grass for a softer interior.
Nests are commonly made on the limbs of trees or in the crotches between the branches. But they’re also made on window ledges, on rain pipes, gutters, especially under eaves atop outdoors light fixtures, on beams beneath wooden decks and sometimes if available, and if the hole is large enough, in backyard nest boxes.
Female robins customarily lay from 3-5 eggs, have 1-3 broods with an incubation period of 12-14 days. The eggs are sky blue or blue-green in color and their empty shells can often be found on the ground beneath the nest as the robin cleans it and makes room for the hatchlings.
Enjoy them now and over the summer months as they’ll be gone en masse around before you know it around September. Much too soon for us robin lovers.
If there’s one thing I’ve been trying to do for a long time it’s capturing an image of a robin pulling a worm or nightcrawler out of the ground. While it was an expensive proposition to do so with film cameras, todays digitals make the task much easier and cheaper. All I want is one good image. And I’ll be as happy as a bird at a feeder filled with sunflower seeds or peanut hearts.
Nick Hromiak has been an outdoors and automotive writer for over 30 years. He's been published in numerous national and state-wide outdoor magazines and newspapers.