Robins in winter — in Minnesota


Some of our robins decided not to migrate south this winter. I wonder if they’re having second thoughts.

I was surprised to look out my window in mid-January and see a flock of six or seven robins on my steps.

Why? Well, first, I’m not accustomed to seeing them in flocks. They’re usually alone, walking on the lawn, maybe stopping to pull on a worm. (I’ve since learned that during the breeding season, they like to spread out).

Secondly, I live in St. Paul, and it was 15 degrees below zero this morning when I spotted them. All the smart worms tunneled under along time ago (or whatever it is worms do before the topsoil freezes).

Thirdly, they were looking back at me through the window, just inches away.

Not being knowledgeable about birds, my first thought was that they were cold and were gravitating to the heat from the door. I know…very silly.

Then I noticed little round reddish droppings all over in the snow. Hmm. Looks like they’ve found some berries in the trees. On closer inspection, their beaks were red, not the traditional yellow. Must be berry stains.

It turns out that robins will stay through the winter as long as there’s food. And along with thicker feathers, they keep themselves warm by shivering.

So why were they standing on the top step looking in the windows on either side of the door?

That mystery was solved when my partner came home. “Did you see all the robins?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he says. A minute later he’s heading out with a handful of stuff. I notice half an apple. I wonder how long he’s been feeding them. I wonder how many we’ll have tomorrow.

Glad to see I’m not the only one putting on a little extra weight this winter.

Some interesting sites about robins, including what they like to eat, how snow depth affects their distribution, how they can stay warm even at 30 below, and their songs.

Kathlyn Stone is an independent journalist in St. Paul. She maintains a health and science news site at