Wednesday Wings: Overwintering Robins

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

We get a lot of emails every winter from people who are surprised to see an American Robin in their yard or in a local park. In fact, there are a few robins here every winter. Although the vast majority of Canadian robins winter in the far southern USA or Mexico, most of the continental US is home to small populations of  overwintering robins. These may be birds that bred in the area, or individuals who moved south from their breeding areas in Canada but did not go all the way to the normal wintering areas. Calgary appears to be near the northern limit of this overwintering range (Edmonton also has overwintering robins most years).

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American Robin, Votier’s Flats, January 1, 2016.

On the recent Calgary Christmas Bird Count we recorded 174 American Robins. Although this was a little high for the count, there are usually over 100 seen. Of course this is not likely to represent all the robins in the city, and it doesn’t include areas outside the count circle like Fish Creek Park. So there are probably a few hundred in the city every winter (not all will survive, especially if we get heavy snow and/or a prolonged cold snap). This may seem like a lot of birds, but in the summer there must be tens of thousands of breeding pairs here. (Does anyone know the total, or have a guess?)

Most overwintering robins are found in the river valleys near open water. They often gather in small flocks and survive mostly by eating berries. They will also come to feeders and heated birdbaths.

The American Robins in these photos were found by the storm-water outflow into Fish Creek just west of Macleod Trail, in the Votier’s Flats area of Fish Creek Provincial Park.

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American Robin, Votier’s Flats, January 1, 2016.

There were at least six robins coming to the water there that afternoon, as well as a much rarer overwintering Hermit Thrush.