Darleen Flaherty of Taylor, Mich., writes, "Several Michigan friends and I spotted robins in various locations in the lower half of Michigan's lower peninsula in February. We saw them when the temperature was in the 40s, but then our weather turned colder and snow returned."
"How do robins survive winter conditions?" I've never seen a robin at any of my hanging feeders, nor eating snacks off the cement that I offer for other critters."
"Will the robins we saw in February be doomed to die because there are no worms to be had? We'd love for you to write about robins in your column."
Winter must be winding down because I'm getting letters and emails about winter robins. Are they back early? Did they ever leave? What do they eat? That's the gist of most of the queries. Here's what happening.
Unlike warblers, swallows, and other songbirds that migrate to avoid severe Northern winters, robins are hardy and flexible. The extent of their annual migration is influenced by several factors, so seeing robins in winter isn't unusual. But even in years when robins escape detection, some while away the colder months in the deep woods where few of us venture regularly. Talk to anyone who hikes the winter woods, however, and you'll hear tales of flocks of robins every year.
Large winter flocks of robins are typical in the Southeastern and Gulf Coast states, though serious birders can usually come up with a few winter robins just about anywhere. But large flocks of winter robins are always a sight to behold.
Winter robin abundance is most influenced by two factors: snow cover and food availability. In comparing robin abundance to snow cover, Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology reports that areas with less than 5 inches of snow cover typically have lots of robins, while areas with more than 5 inches of snow cover have fewer robins. Heavier snow cover means lower temperatures and food that's more difficult to find, so robins move south to more favorable conditions.