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Ohio’s Overwintering Robins

This is the time of year that many northern areas of the United States are seeing their first robins, a sign that spring has finally arrived… unless you live in Ohio. Our robins have decided that migrating south is too much hassle.

A robin fluffing out its feathers against the cold (photographed Jan. 14, 2011 in Inniswood Metro Gardens)

A robin foraging berries (photographed Jan. 14, 2011 in Inniswood Metro Gardens)

In case you’re unfamiliar with Ohio and mistakenly believe that we typically have mild winters, here are a few other photos that I took the same day.

It was freezing, and I can prove it! (photographed Jan. 14, 2011 in Boyer Nature Preserve)
Snowy Trail (photographed Jan. 14, 2011 in Boyer Nature Preserve)
A children’s playground (photographed Jan. 14, 2011 in Inniswood Metro Gardens)
A silhouette of burrs against the snow (photographed Jan. 14, 2011 in Boyer Nature Preserve)

I thought I was being so clever while taking the above macro. After putting my camera away and tucking my mittened hands into my pockets, I realized that I had gotten too close to the plant and that there were burrs all over my mittens and now in the lining of my pockets.

Okay, so why are our robins sticking around all winter long? According to a newspaper article published by naturalist, Jim McCormac, it’s all due to this plant.

The invasive plant, Amur Honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii), photographed June 9, 2010 in Boyer Nature Preserve)

This Asian plant is all over Boyer Nature Preserve, and it is one of Ohio’s top invasive plants. During the winter enough Honeysuckle berries remain on these plants to “trick” the robins into staying. In his newspaper article, Jim McCormac explained that although these berries are plentiful, they are much lower in nutritional value than our native berries.

To quantify the overwintering phenomenon, McCormac reports that in December 1970, 36 robins were counted in Columbus. But in December 2010 the number had increased to 2,385. As more and more robins decide to overwinter, the greater the danger that the robins will run out of berries before winter is over.

In case you’re wondering why I used winter photos from last year instead of this year, we had unseasonably warm weather this past winter. Here’s a photo of some joggers that I photographed at the beginning of February.

Winter joggers in shorts, photographed Feb 1, 2012 in Highbanks Metro Park

So the robins fared pretty well this past winter.

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© Deborah Platt, Robert Platt and 2012 to 2021

5 thoughts on “Ohio’s Overwintering Robins

  1. It is now late summer and I have not seen a robin in Central Ohio for weeks. I do believe they leave this section of Ohio, and they seem to return in March. I would love for them to stay around throughout the winter months, but that seems unlikely.

  2. I had no idea that robins love honeysuckle! Amazing how nature continues year after year to change some migration cycles. That first fluffed-up robin photo is spectacular, nice detail!

    1. Thanks! When I went to look at my post under WordPress’s collection of posts tagged, “Nature”, I was expecting the fluffed up robin to be the photo that they showed. But noooo. They showed the silhouette of the burrs that had gotten all over my mittens.

      The migration issue is interesting. Maybe we should mark spring by noting which birds have left the area instead of which birds have arrived? The juncos and red-breasted nuthatches that were wintering here appear to be long-gone now.

  3. To think that as far north as Edmonton robin are staying through the winter. I don’t remember robins doing that when I was growing up.

    We only have the ring-billed gulls around here, so I’m sure I’ll be seeing photos of exotic looking gulls at your site. 🙂

    I’ve been wearing shorts around here the past couple days, but hey! It’s spring! (Although the low for tonight is supposed to be back below freezing).

  4. I almost did write that here in Edmonton we do have robins that overwinter in the ravines-there were quite a few at christmas bird count in mid-december. The real sign of spring for me are the arrival of the the early spring it is common to find a few California gulls and Franklin gulls amongst the regular Ring-billed. But i still get excited to see my first Robin of the season-I enjoyed your photos. Oh yes we get the younger people wearing shorts as soon as it gets around zero. Jane

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