Observing Birds

For those who are unaware of it, this week there is another polar vortex coming toward the South. Yes! It is cold! More snow! However, I am wondering if this is the reason for a very unusual site this morning.

To add context, there I was, just brushing my teeth like I do every morning. The heater was constantly kicking in and making soft wooshing noises. And then, outside the eastern window, I see a tree full of small birds. Now, seeing Avians during this time is normal; it is still winter, so they are probably migrating further South. In my opinion, what I think was unusual is that very slowly, more and more of those birds started to come onto the tree next to the window.

At first, I thought nothing of it; at least, until the tree became more and more full of these American Robins. I was going to take a picture of the phenomena, but of course, the birds suddenly left when I was going to get my phone. Sigh. It is then that I noticed that one Robins was left behind on the tree, looking around the tree like it was confused. I just chucked to contain my laughter at the hilarity of the situation.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture, or a video, of the confused Robin. I am sure that many a memes would have been made from it.


Well, I often laugh at my anthropomorphic view of animals.

He’s not a bird, but this beat-up guy is clearly sneering at us:

(Zoom into his face :smirk:)

YOU! Who you think you’re lookin’ at?


Quite a few birds don’t migrate at all, so there are very few places where you can’t find some in the winter. Robins do famously migrate, but… for much of their breeding range, birds from farther north come south to spend the winter. Generally, in the winter they hang out in flocks, often large ones, feeding on berries, etc. rather than worms and bugs. So when you do see them, you often see a bunch at once.


I have noticed this winter that robins are seeming to act differently than they did last winter. Last winter they stayed away from the town for the most part, but this year they seem to be much closer to households. Usually during winter around here mockingbirds, cardinals, and blue jays rule the massive oak tree behind my house. This winter it’s like things switched places, less blue jays and mockingbirds, but tons of robins suddenly appearing seemingly out of thin air. Feel like with the temperature drop coming in the next few days, that assortment of birds will probably change quite a bit.

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There are robins that stick around all year in Ontario and warmer parts of Canada. The most recent Ontario observations are from near Ottawa where the daytime high was around -6 C, -12 overnight. I have never seen a robin in the winter here in Winnipeg. Right now we are struggling to get daytime highs of -25 C, below -30 at night. The robins do stay here until late fall, but they always leave before the winter. Don’t know where to. As @psweet mentions, some birds don’t migrate, and we still have chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers (3 spp), jays and crows in the city. Oh, and owls. How they survive I don’t know. There are also wanderers - waxwings, grosbeaks that migrate in flocks through the boreal forest further north.

At least here in NE Illinois, apparently the robins we see in the winter aren’t the ones that breed here – that’s according to specimens at the Field Museum.

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Robins gather together in flocks in the winter to search for food and roost together. I have seen them here in NE Ohio on the ornamental crabapple trees and Japanese honeysuckle bushes. They search for any fruit available now.

Both of the plants I mentioned are nonnative. You can find the crabapple trees in community parks, business parks and around restaurants. The honeysuckle bushes line the Cuyahoga River and old canal in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. You can walk along the canal along a paved trail and see the robins in the bushes. In some sections, volunteers are clearing out the bushes and planting native species. The honeysuckle can’t really be eradicated completely. So, the robins will have this source of food for the future. It just might be patchy in the Valley.

You can put out raisins or other dried fruit for them at home. You will also get northern mockingbirds which also enjoy fruit.

If you want to get a copy of Donald Kroodsma’s book “Birdsong by the Seasons” you can listen to the CD that comes with it. There is a recording of thousands of robins lifting off from a roosting site.


I looked at Cornell’s range map for them, and they seem to be found year round a little below the 49th parallel. They breed above that in the summer, and some also retreat to N Mexico in winter. I suspect like a lot of birds, they are semi-migrants rather than dedicated migrants.

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Range maps aren’t necessarily telling the whole story – it could be, for instance, that the birds from way up north are the ones that end up going into Mexico, whereas the ones from the middle latitudes don’t move at all. Or it could be that the entire population picks up and moves a bit, so that most areas don’t notice as one group comes in and replaces another. I don’t know what the situation is in most of the country, but here in NE Illinois, specimen data shows that the birds here in winter average distinctly larger than the ones that nest here, indicating that replacement rather than residency is the norm. (And if you’ve watched these guys migrate, then it’s pretty clear that there’s quite a bit of movement.)


Thanks! I know that range maps are rough guides, and really don’t know how robins migrate, but what it does show is that they don’t spend winters here in Winnipeg. Is NE Illinois not about the same latitude as parts of Ontario - I wonder if the ones that overwinter there have come from someplace else?

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Is NE Illinois not about the same latitude as parts of Ontario - I wonder if the ones that overwinter there have come from someplace else?

Yes, to the first part – Chicago’s at about the same latitude as Point Pelee. I wouldn’t be surprised if your conjecture is correct, but I have no info on the question away from this area.


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