Songs are used by males in springtime to mark their territory. It's a sign the birds are getting ready for mating season.
Amazingly, each male robin sings a little bit differently from other nearby competitors.
They will also vary the speed & length of their songs according to time of day and the specific context of their singing.
Ornithological researchers have barely scratched the surface of what you can learn from the song of a robin, but even a basic familiarity will help you make some great discoveries in the field.
Calls & Alarms
The thing that really separates robin vocalizations from other birds is their huge variety of calls and alarms. Robins have very soft feeding calls to stay in touch with family members while feeding on the ground.
They make indicator calls when they fly to a new location, and other calls still for when they fly down towards a feeding area.
They also have specific alarm calls for a whole spectrum of potential predators and threats like cats, nest robbers, owls and hawks.
Here's an example recording of robin calls & alarms again from the Macaulay library of nature sounds. In this recording you'll hear a variety of alarms and calls including the high pitched aerial predator alarm.
How To Recognize Robin Alarms
People are often surprised that the best indicators of robin alarms have almost nothing to do with the particular sound being made.
In my own experience, the best way to recognize robin alarms is by the context. I shared a good example of how this works with owl alarms in my article - how to find an owl with bird language.
That article also has an example recording I made of some robins alarming at a barn owl.
I also talk a lot more about how to recognize bird alarm calls in my bird language blueprint online course, where I teach methods you can use to track wildlife by listening to bird alarms.
#2 Robins Have Lots Of Predators
There's a reason why robins are so expressive and vocal. Can you guess what it is?
Robins are rather plump and juicy birds. They have much more meat on their bones than something like a sparrow or chickadee.
Their larger size also makes it more challenging to hide and they're a bit slower than many other species.
All this boils down to the fact that robins have lots of predators they need to be very tuned in.
Here's a list of all the animals I have personally been able to locate by following robin alarms:
Black Tailed Deer
And this is by no means a complete list!
I would absolutely expect to find many other related animals on this list from the cat, dog & hawk family, or anything else that might pose a threat to medium sized songbirds.
The point is robins will alarm at many different animals so you should pay attention!
#3 Robins Are Easy To Find And Observe
Everybody loves a rare bird, but always remember... The birds you see most often are easier to learn from.
Robins are easy to study because they're easy to find. You can find robins in almost any habitat whether forest or field.
The trick to locating robins is knowing their diet. If you can find their food then you find them too.
So what do robins eat?
Mostly all you need to know is that robins eat worms... but they do have different feeding strategies in different habitat types.
In large open fields you’ll often find robins in large flocks. They seem to share these abundant feeding zones quite freely even during nesting season.
However, large gatherings are both a curse and a benefit. You'll notice that large flocks of robins frequently attract bird eating hawks.
You'll notice it becomes very common to see robins flying up into a sentinel position. They keep watch for each other and warn of approaching danger.
When the hawk moves close you'll get to see the mad dash of robins fleeing for their lives.
In tighter habitats with less open space and visibility, robins will use a completely different strategy for finding food. They tend to feed in mated pairs and rely less on visual communication.
As autumn and winter approaches, it's also common to see robins feeding in treetops on berries.
#4 Excellent Teachers Of Bird Behavior
There are two types of bird watchers in this world...
Birding Style #1 (Like that movie, "The Big Year")
The first type is people who are only interested in filling their "Life list".
How many different birds can I see?
How many rare birds can I see?
Birding Style #2
The second type is people who want to understand all the who's, what's, when's and why's of bird behaviour.
It's about quality not quantity
How well can I know the birds I see every day?
What can the birds teach me about nature?
Of course I'm probably biased, but I personally find bird behaviour and deeper study of individual birds much more interesting than trying to see as many rare birds as possible.
There's nothing wrong with going to see a rare bird when the opportunity is there, but I've find it much more rewarding to learn the birds in more depth.
That's why I spend the vast majority of my bird time watching species that live every day right in my own backyard - like the american robin.
Robin Behaviours To Look For:
Territory: Robins are very territorial birds. Look for places where they fight with other robins. Where does the male sing from? How many robins sing within earshot of your front door?
Nesting: Robins tend to nest about 10-15 feet up in coniferous trees. Can you spot the signs of nest building? Can you hear the nestlings begging for food?
Fledglings: Nesting is over. The birds are basically full grown, but they're still 100% dependent on their parents for food. Can you spot groups of 2-4 juvenile robins bugging their parents?
Food Observations: Yes robins mostly eat worms. But let's go deeper. When do they not eat worms? Where do they do most of their feeding? How long do they feed in one place before moving somewhere else?
Migration: What kind of seasonal movement happens with your local robins? Do they change their core territory in late summer versus springtime? Do they go south for winter? Or do you suddenly get a flurry of robin flocks from the north when things get cold?
Regional Variants: I've noticed that some places the robins seem very plump and well fed, while other places the robins are very skinny. What's up with that? If you're lucky you might get to see an albino robin.
All of these robin behaviours are probably already happening in your own backyard. The question is have you noticed them?
Asking The Question "WHY"
One last tip - when you see a bird doing something interesting there are always deeper layers that you can discover by asking "why".
Why are the robins nesting in this tree? Why not that other tree?
Why do the robins feed in the backyard every morning but not in the afternoon? Where do they go?
Why are the robins always so agitated in the schoolyard, yet more relaxed in my backyard?
So those are my straight facts about the North American Robin.
If I've convinced you to stop, watch and listen a little bit more carefully the next time you spot that little red breast on the lawn then my work is complete.