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Wednesday's Wildlife: Robin Nests

An American robin flies overhead against a blue sky. In its beak it holds several bits of long grass. It lands on the edge of a tree before disappearing inside the canopy. What does a robin nest look like? How long does it take for the young to leave the nest? How can we help American robin young survive?

American robin holding dried grasses in beak while building a nest.
Figure 1: American robin with dried grasses to build nest.

Beginning in March and April, an American robin pair will work together to gather materials that include grass and mud.  The male helps bring materials, and the female usually constructs the nest.  The female robin uses her wrist (mid-joint on the wing) to press the grasses into an outer circle. The inner layers of the nest are made of a mud cup and some finer grass or materials. This process can take a few days to a couple weeks to complete depending on whether it rains (making available mud).


A little variety in the nesting materials is normal, however, synthetic materials, especially strips from tarps for example, are often lethal to hatchlings (baby birds).  The fine strips of plastic entwine themselves around their legs, hindering their development and ability to leave the nest. Keeping natural areas free of garbage and putting away old tarps that birds might pull threads from, can help prevent the hatchlings from becoming ensnared in the nest.


American robin cup nest with three blue eggs.
Figure 2: American robin cup nest with three blue eggs.

Once the nest is complete, three to four light blue eggs are laid.  The female will incubate them for about thirteen days.  American robin hatchlings are blind, featherless, and helpless. This type of young is called altricial.  Both parents help feed the hatchlings until they develop feathers and their flight muscles, as they prepare to leave the nest.

American robin sitting on nest with hatchlings in it.
Figure 3: American robin parent warming nestlings in nest.

American robin young, who are preparing to leave the nest, are called fledges.  They cannot yet fly but will hop or do short flapping flight attempts.  Learning to fly takes around two weeks.  Fledges are at risk for predation, so keeping pets indoors or on leash can improve their survival chances.


It’s easy to mistake fledges learning to fly for birds who cannot fly (due to injury or illness). Healthy fledges have a parent checking in with them every fifteen minutes to an hour and overall appearance is uninjured, alert, and active. Fledglings that need help have been handled by a cat (even if no injury is visible, the bird will need treatment), have obvious injuries, or the parent has been absent for longer than a few hours.

American robin fledgling on ground.  Has dark speckling on chest and yellow gape flanges.
Figure 4: American robin fledgling with a distinct speckling of dark spots across its chest and yellow gape flanges on its beak.

How do we tell fledges from adults?  Fledglings often have shorter tails, a few remaining fluffy down feathers on their head or wings, and bright yellow edges on their beak (gape flanges). American robin fledges are also distinguished from adults by a speckling of dark brown spots on their chest feathers, which help with camouflage.


What are the robins doing in your neighbourhood? Do they have a nearby nest?


Uncertain whether wildlife needs help? Found injured or orphaned wildlife? Please call our hotline at: 403-214-1312.





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