How the patterns of robins, other birds indicate seasons changing

FOX 29 viewers have been spotting robins across our area over the last month. Does that mean they are better than Punxsutawney Phil at predicting weather?

If you’re hoping for an early spring, not so fast.

It turns out that many robins stay in our area year-round. Now, we’re used to seeing—and hearing robins—in our yard, so where are they hiding this time of year?

"Robins change their diet from worms and insects to fruit in winter. In many cases, that means they move from your yard into the woods where they can find fruit," says Pat Nastase from The Valley Forge Audubon Society.

"If you have trees and shrubs with berries in your yard, (like holly, hawthorn, juniper, or viburnum) you will have robins in your yard year-round."

Patty Werth, another Valley Forge Audubon Society member says robins love the berries from poison ivy. Poison ivy will grow up trees, which makes it easy for robins to get to the berries when snow covers the ground. These berries are packed with nutrients that benefit the birds.

While robins are typically quiet this time of year, you may hear other birds chirp.

 "There are some birds that sing in the winter. Carolina wrens sing year-round. White-throated sparrows, which are seen in our area in the winter, will also sing," Pat explains.

She also mentioned some recent research (like this study from the University of Kentucky) that suggests some robins will start singing when days get longer in winter.

Mid-January is when the days and sunset times become noticeably longer. Longer days trigger a response in birds that it’s time for spring, so they’ll become more vocal because singing is a way to attract partners. 

Spring is the breeding season for birds.

As for birds that migrate south for winter, our weather will determine when they’re back in your backyard. If we have a spring that’s warmer sooner, insects will start coming out sooner. Insects are the main food source for birds that migrate, so those birds will come back sooner if the insects are out.

If you want to spot some robins or see what other birds are here all winter, you can do that with the Valley Forge Audubon Society this month. 

They have a free webinar on bird spotting best practice Tuesday, February 15, and they’re also hosting free group birdwatching events at local parks that Presidents’ Day weekend. It’s all part of the Audubon Society’s nationwide bird count where they ask volunteers to count the number of birds where they live.

If you want to learn more about robins, watch the interview at the top of this page and check out this page about robins.