Ask Ellen: I’m seeing robins. Is spring here already?

Ask Ellen

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The coldest weather in two years has settled into West Michigan. Our state is caked in snow and ice and temperatures are staying locked in the low 20s and teens. Despite the February freeze, viewers have been spotting flocks of robins around the area.

The return of robins is fabled to be a sure sign of spring. But like many old wives’ tales, there is much more to the story.

SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?

Not all American robins migrate. Each individual robin decides if they want to migrate and, if so, how far.

Some robins choose to stay year-round in the habitat they hatched in, which means you can spot a robin at really any time of the year south of Canada.

Most do choose to fly south so that they can continue to snack on their favorite food source, earthworms.

American Robin Migration Map: Courtesy of the Cornell Lab, “All About Birds.”

According to abcbirds.org, robins that tend to stay where they hatch are typically male. While scientists don’t exactly know why, the leading theory is that the males that stay get first dibs on the best mating grounds once the freeze thaws.

The same site says that of the migrating robins, males are usually the first to migrate back, often preceding females by a couple of days to a couple of weeks.

The decision for a robin to leave is truly a gamble. Many do not survive.

WHY ARE SO MANY ROBINS FLOCKING TOGETHER?

When the ground freezes hard or is covered in snow, robins are forced to find a food source. Their favorite food is earthworms, but in the deep freeze of winter, they often turn to bushes with berries still on them. This makes berry bushes a hot spot for local robins.

There is another reason robins can be seen in high numbers on a winter day. Unlike in spring, during the winter, robins tend to form flocks. According to abcbirds.org, this is to increase survival.

In the winter, the primary goals of the bird are to find food and avoid predators. They can do this better in flocks.

During the spring, the thawing ground makes food much more plentiful as worms can be plucked from the ground. Robins turn their attention from avoiding predators to mating. Soon the territorial birds abandon flocks and become solitary, with the males often claiming the best spot they can for breeding.

This is why many of the viewer pictures of robins in the winter show them in large groups, whereas in the springtime there are more instances of individual robins.

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