Robins are some of the most famous birds, and the American Robin is probably the most popular one. It belongs to the Thrush family and is usually brown-gray with a dark head and orange underpants.
But there are lots of different birds that look like robins but aren’t. It’s easy to mistake one of these birds for a robin if you’re not that careful.
In this guide, we’ll list some of these birds and explain the noticeable differences that can help you tell them apart. So, let’s read more about them.
10 Birds That You Might Mistake For a Robin
The American Robin can be found in urban areas, parks, gardens, golf courses, in addition to shrublands, pine forests, deciduous woodlands, fields, and forests that regenerate after fires.
This bird is overly active during the day, and at night it groups in large flocks and roosts in trees. It feeds on invertebrates, fruits and occasionally feeds on lizards. It also comes to backyard feeders. But if you’re not that careful, you might mistake another dark bird for an American Robin.
Here are some of the most common birds that look like robins.
1. Red-Breasted Nuthatch
The Red-Breasted Nuthatch is bluish-gray with a black cap and rich rusty-cinnamon underpants. It’s smaller than a robin, almost the size of a sparrow, but it might even be smaller.
From a distance, you might mistake this bird for a paler robin, but it’s easily noticed for its quick and sudden movements.
Author Note: The Red-Breasted Nuthatch quickly moves from one branch to another, probing for insects that hide under the flakes of bark. It mainly feeds on beetles, caterpillars, and ants.
If you have a backyard feeder, fill it with peanuts, suet, and sunflower seeds to attract this bird. When it’s building the nest, the Red-Breasted Nuthatch collects resins from coniferous trees and uses them around the nest opening to keep out predators.
This bird becomes overly aggressive during the nesting season and often chases other hole-nesters like House Wrens and Downy Woodpeckers and might even chase other birds like House Finches and Violet-Green Swallows.
2. Baltimore Oriole
The Baltimore Oriole is orange and black with a white bar on the black wings. Female birds are yellow-orange on the breast with grayish heads and have two white bars on their wings.
Because this bird feeds high on trees, it’s easier heard than seen. It can be found in open woodlands and along river banks and doesn’t mind spending time around humans. This is why you can also find it in urban areas, parks, backyards, and orchards.
The Baltimore Oriole feeds on insects, especially in the breeding season when the birds need more protein. It feeds on crickets, beetles, grasshoppers, flies, and moths. It also feeds on annoying pests like fall webworms, gypsy moth caterpillars, and tent caterpillars.
In winter, it feeds on some fruits. This is why some fruit growers consider this bird a pest, as it damages crops like cherries, raspberries, and bananas.
Cut some ripe oranges and hang them on the trees to attract this bird to your backyard. You can also offer some fruit jelly. If you grow nectar-bearing fruits like crab apples, this bird will enjoy spending time in your backyard.
3. American Redstart
This little active bird doesn’t seem to stand still. The American Redstart is almost black with some bright orange patches on the sides, wings and tail, and a white belly. Female birds are more yellow-orange and have dark gray heads.
It’s found across the shrubby areas across the US and southern Canada, usually in habitats near water bodies. You can see this bird hopping from one tree to another, looking for insects.
It startles its prey by flashing its wings and tail to flush it from vegetation. The American Redstart prefers to feed on flies, moths, beetles, wasps, and leafhoppers. It also feeds on fruits and berries.
The American Redstart doesn’t prefer visiting seed feeders but will visit your backyard if you have small plants with berries and other fruits. The male bird looks for nest sites in maple, ash, and birch trees, and the female bird will choose the most suitable one. The female bird usually builds the nest by herself and takes between 3 to 7 days to have it completed.
4. Spotted Towhee
The Spotted Towhee is always mistaken for a robin because it’s almost the same size and color. The underpants and throat are jet-black, and the wings and back have bright white spots. It has rufous red flanks and a white belly that you might not be able to see from a distance. Female birds are almost the same pattern, but they’re more grayish-brown.
If you want to locate the Spotted Towhee, look under the shrubs, where this little bird might be hopping. It also likes to jump on the lower branches to look for insects or to sing its song.
The Spotted Towhee feeds on insects during the breeding season, and it prefers to feed on ladybugs, crickets, grasshoppers, ground beetles, wood-boring beetles, and spiders. It also feeds on berries, acorns, and seeds, especially in winter.
Top Tip: Don’t be surprised if you see this bird more often in your backyard, especially if you sprinkle some seeds on the ground. It might even live in your backyard permanently if you have overgrown borders.
5. Orchard Oriole
The Orchard Oriole is a little bit smaller than a robin but is slightly bigger than a sparrow. The male bird is black with a reddish-chestnut below, and the female bird is greenish-yellow with white wings. The Orchard Oriole likes to forage for insects in treetops.
It mainly feeds on insects, in addition to some fruits and nectar. Its favorite prey is wasps, beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, and caterpillars. The bird uses its beak to pierce flowers for the nectar or dips it into the flower opening, picking up some pollen as well. Before fall migration, the Orchard Oriole feeds on different berries.
It’s not easy to locate the Orchard Oriole as it spends most of its time away from the ground and lower tree branches. However, you might be able to detect its sweet song, which usually sounds like the robin’s song.
It doesn’t usually visit backyard feeders but might feed from hummingbird nectar feeders. You can also attract this bird by offering sliced oranges or fruit jelly.
6. Varied Thrush
Many people mistake this stocky songbird for a robin because of the plumage color, although it has a different pattern. It’s dark gray with a rich orange below and a black breast band.
The wings are black with orange bars and tips. Female birds look similar, but they’re paler and more brownish. The Varied Thrush likes to perch on lower shrubs and hops on the ground most of the time.
This bird’s diet differs according to the season. In winter, it eats nuts and berries, but it feeds on insects and arthropods in summer. The Varied Thrush picks a dead leaf and flips it to examine it fully for prey.
Compared to other birds, this one has a sweet song that attracts attention. If you want to attract this bird to your backyard, consider planting some fruiting shrubs or setting up a bird feeder. It prefers visiting ground feeders, especially in winter.
7. Black-Headed Grosbeak
The Black-Headed Grosbeak is a little slimmer than an American Robin and has a black head and black and white wings. The rest of the body is orange-cinnamon. Female birds have buff breasts and are more warm orange than males. When the birds fly, you can notice the yellow feathers under the wings.
This bird hides and hops on the ground to look for insects. However, you’re unlikely to miss it, thanks to its short and distinctive call. It can be found in various habitats, including mixed woodlands, mountain forests, and backyards.
The Black-Headed Grosbeak has a large bill, which is ideal for cracking large seeds. Using the bill, the birds can also crush the rigid bodies of snails and insects.
Author Note: The Black-Headed Grosbeak feeds mostly on insects during the breeding season, including beetles, spiders, and even monarch butterflies. In addition, this bird feeds on berries and orchard fruits like figs, cherries, and crab apples during migration.
If enough cover is available in your backyard, this bird won’t mind building its nest in your backyard. It visits seed feeders and nectar feeders set up for orioles.
8. Red-Winged Blackbird
The Red-Winged Blackbird is the same size as a robin, but it’s a lot darker with its glossy black plumage. The bird has red-yellow or orange patches on the shoulders. This bird will do everything it can to attract attention, from sitting on high perches to singing all day long.
The bird’s diet is made up of insects in summer and seeds in winter. It often probes the bases of aquatic plants to find hidden insects.
Finding the Red-Winged Blackbird is easy if you inspect wetlands, like salt and freshwater marshes. It also breeds in drier areas like meadows and fields.
During the migration season, the Red-Winged Blackbird will visit your backyard if you offer mixed seeds and grains at your feeder. You can also spread some seeds on the ground where this bird likes to look for food.
This species is highly polygynous, as the male bird might take as many as 15 female partners at the same time. Almost 90% of the male birds will have more than one female partner nesting in the same area.
9. Eastern Towhee
The Eastern Towhee is almost the same size as a robin with a sooty black above, rufous sides, and white belly. Female birds have the same pattern, but they’re brown, whereas the male birds are black.
Look for this bird on the ground, where it spends most of its time scratching leaves with both feet. When it’s done, it will hop on lower trees and shrubs to sing.
This bird can be found in various habitats, including forest edges, woodlands, overgrown fields, and backyards. As long as there’s a thick cover to provide protection and leaf litter for scratching, the Eastern Towhee will feel comfortable and safe. As the bird scratches the leaves, the scratching sound will help you locate it.
In the past, people thought that the Eastern Towhee and Spotted Towhee were members of the same species, but today this classification doesn’t apply. If you’ve got a lot of shrubs, the Eastern Towhee might consider living in your backyard. It comes to bird feeders and picks up the fallen seeds.
10. Blackburnian Warbler
The Blackburnian Warbler is as small as a sparrow and has a bright orange face and breast. The rest of the body is black with some white markings, and female birds are pale yellow, whereas the male birds are orange.
This bird is usually hard to see, as it spends most of its time high in the canopy of coniferous forests. But you might be able to notice this bird if you pay attention to its loud song and the high-pitched flourish at its end.
Author Note: The Blackburnian Warbler eats the caterpillars of spruce budworm. It also feeds on the larvae and adult flies, lacewings, scale insects, ants, and aphids.
It either probes piles of dead leaves to forage for insects or uses gleaning to catch insects. This bird occasionally feeds on berries.
If you have plenty of trees in your backyard, the Blackburnian Warbler might visit more often, especially during the migration season. Set up a birdbath to tempt this bird to come out of its hiding. It usually doesn’t associate with other birds but might bring its young birds to forage with the flocks of chickadees.
There are lots of birds that might look like robins, especially if you’re not an avid birder. However, paying attention to the little details that set these bird species apart will help you identify them.
Most of these birds can actually visit your backyard, especially if you provide a consistent supply of food and water and live within their range.
I have a giant bird baby that looks like a mutant robin. It loves my giant urn water feature and spends a long time scratching his molt in there. He is the size of 3 robins and body and bill features look closely like the orchard oriel I am in Sonoma county… I’ll try to post a pic.
I live in upper South Carolina. The bird at my feeding station was a very dark brown, nearly black on its head, back and wings, had a white throat and breast, and rust on both sides of its body. I have never seen it before and cannot find it in any bird identifier book or on line identifiers.