The robin’s simple yet evocative cheerily-cheerio song meshes well with the thunk of basketballs and the drone of lawnmowers in suburban neighborhoods all across North America; yet, they also hide their nests in mountaintop spruce and fir forests, where they are as wary as any hermit thrush. Males sport brick-red breasts and black heads with broken white spectacles and a streaked white throat and lower belly. Females are paler.
Song is a rich, slightly hoarse warble: cheery-o, churlee, cheery-up! Calls include a loud see-seet-tut-tut-tut! and a thin, soft, down-slurred tseeeet! as an alarm call.
Almost all North Americans have grown up having a fairly intimate acquaintance with a thrush. The American robin, the largest and most widespread and most abundant North American thrush, has followed the watered lawn—with its plentiful earthworm prey base—westward across the continent.
Only parts of Florida, Texas, and the Southwest, where the soil is too sandy to support the introduced common earthworm, lack robins. The robin is primarily a bird of lawns with trees and shrubs, though it also breeds in high mountain forests near clear-cuts or openings.
Few other species show its adaptability to diverse habitats, from landscaped parking lot islets to dense, secluded forests. Migration is marked in northern climes, but is less so in southern ones.
Running, then standing erect and motionless on a lawn, the robin watches and listens for earthworms and other invertebrates crawling in the grass. A quick stab captures them, sometimes resulting in a tug-of-war with a recalcitrant night crawler. Robins flock in fall to exploit fruiting trees and shrubs, fluttering and giggling as they reach for food.
Most bird watchers are familiar with the robin’s sturdy mud-and-grass cup, often nestled in an evergreen, a climbing vine, on a horizontal branch, or even on a windowsill. The female incubates three to four eggs for 12 to 14 days.
Adults can be seen foraging with bills full of earthworms as soon as the young hatch. Young leave the nest, barely able to flutter, on about the thirteenth day. They are distinguished by their spotted, whitish breasts and reedy, begging calls. The male feeds them for another three weeks, while the female usually starts a second brood.
Robins are often considered the first sign of spring, but not all robins leave their home range in winter, so their appearance is not really a sign of spring.