I returned home from Florida in late January and was very surprised to see a large flock of robins and an equal number of cedar waxwings in my yard. The birds were feasting on the blue berries that were on the cedar trees in my yard and drinking from the heated birdbath. I saw a lot of robins in Florida but I did not expect them here in such large numbers– especially with this year’s winter weather. In the spring and summer month’s robins are seen in yards feeding on worms, caterpillars, insects, and spiders. These foods provide the high protein diet that their young need for fast growth. However, during the winter months, robins feed on a variety of wild fruits and berries, such as hackberries, sumac, bittersweet, hawthorns, cedar, and mountain ash. Some ornithologists have reported seeing robins intoxicated after eating large amounts of honeysuckle berries. Jim Gates of Perry called me to report hundreds of robins and other birds eating the crabapples from the trees in his front yard and the Veterans Memorial Park.
Robins are usually thought of as birds that migrate to a warmer climate for the winter months, but it is not uncommon to see them here in winter. Some robins have even been observed overwintering in southern Canada. They can survive the ice storms, blizzards, and cold weather as long as they have enough food. Last summer and fall produced a good crop of berries, crabapples and other fruits for the birds to eat this winter. They are considered a harbinger of spring but many spend their winter in their breeding territory. Because they spend more time feeding and roosting in trees and less time in our yards we are not as likely to see them in winter.
According to Professor James Dinsmore, at Iowa State University, robins are being seen more frequently in the winter, more of them are being seen each year on the Audubon Christmas Bird count since the 1950s. Also, their populations have been increasing throughout their range since the banning of D.D.T. in the 1970s. If you have robins and cedar waxwings on your property and want to help them through the winter put a variety of fruits such as, grapes, raisins, cherries, and berries on a platform feeder or on the ground and provide them with water. There are many types of devices that will keep the water from freezing.
Robins are Iowa’s largest thrush; they are one of the favorite yard birds in Iowa. Their grayish-brown back, black head, and brick orange breast makes them easy to identify and their loud liquid song of "chreerily cheer-up cheerio" is pleasant hear at all time during the day. They have adapted well to the habitat changes in Iowa and they can use a variety of platforms for nesting sites to raise their young. Because the birds have a tolerance for human activities they will remain one of the most familiar Iowa birds during all the seasons of the year.