Robins In December

American Robin (photo by Chuck Tague)
American Robin (photo by Chuck Tague)

The phrase “The First Robin of Spring” is misleading. We think it means that robins leave for the winter.  Not so in Pittsburgh.  We always have robins in December.

American robins (Turdus migratorius) are very versatile birds. They change their diet for the season, eating invertebrates in summer and fruit in winter.  They take advantage of invasive species, especially earthworms and bush honeysuckle.  They move quickly to places where we’ve changed the landscape, adopting our farms and suburbs.  And they’re flexible on migration.

Studies have shown that American robins migrate an average of 300-750 miles but that average doesn’t tell the whole story.  Some flocks head directly south, arriving in Florida by early December.  Others take their time, pausing when they find abundant food along the way.  Still others stay home or travel less than 60 miles from their breeding grounds especially in the last two decades as the climate warms.

Every December, huge flocks of robins feed and roost in Allegheny County.  In 2008 Scott Kinsey discovered 100,000 of them roosting in Carnegie.  The flocks stay through the month and are counted on the Christmas Bird Counts.  Then, when the fruit is gone, the ground freezes, or there’s snow cover the robins move on.

In Pittsburgh they normally don’t leave until January.


(photo by Chuck Tague)

2 thoughts on “Robins In December

  1. Here in central Maryland in the winter during particularly brutal snowstorms or ice storms the Robins gather in groups and feed on the Holly berries in my yard.

  2. I saw a huge flock of Robins around 7:30 in Washington, PA this morning. I had just gotten out of my car to walk into work and heard a few chirps. I looked up to see the sky speckled with hundreds of birds. I stood there watching expecting the flock to end, but to my surprise it still hadn’t a few minutes later when I decided it was time to head to my desk. I’ve seen large flocks of Robins before, but nothing like this. It was incredible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *