Furthermore, if food is abundant, robins can thrive in surprisingly cold temperatures if coupled with minimal snowfall. Fruit-bearing trees and shrubs such as cherries and grapes sustain robins during the winter months. Earthworms and other invertebrates are warm weather fare. Being dietary opportunists, robins remain where food is abundant until supplies are exhausted. Then they move on.
One reason robins linger farther north today compared to 50 years ago, especially during mild winters, is the popularity of ornamental fruit trees in urban and suburban areas. We may plant crab apples, hollies, and mountain ashes for their visual appeal, but robins value their fruits. Our horticultural habits have helped create a winter haven for robins.
Another advantage to less frequent and shorter migrations is that robins have that much less distance to travel again in the spring. Thus they can return to their breeding territories earlier and in better condition.
Though people may see flocks of scores or even hundreds of robins during the day while they forage for fruits and berries, the largest and most impressive groups assemble just before dusk. Thousands of robins roost in conifers or other dense cover. And they are sometimes joined by thousands of cowbirds, grackles, and starlings. Such a sight is impressive, unless you happen to park your car under the roost tree.
At dawn, these large roosting flocks break up into many smaller feeding flocks that might travel as far as 20 miles to a food source. At day's end, they return to the roost for a safe night's sleep.
Readers also often ask if robins can be attracted to feeders. They can, but not with seeds. Try offering diced raisins, grapes or craisins. Or, thinking more long-term, plant a few fruit-bearing trees and shrubs around the house. Robins also love live food. I've watched hungry robins take mouthfuls of mealworms repeatedly, especially when they are feeding nestlings.
Robins are a poor sign of spring. If you choose to measure the arrival of warmer weather by the occurrence of migratory birds, let hummingbirds and wood thrushes be your harbingers of spring.
Send questions and comments to Dr. Scott Shalaway, 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033 or email sshala...@aol.com