If you’ve ever come across an old, abandoned nest, you’ve probably wondered who it belongs to and whether they’ll ever come back. We were curious about the nesting habits of robins. So, we decided to ask the experts: do robins reuse their nests?
The quick answer is: no, they don’t. However, they’ve been known to build new ones on old nesting sites.
Interested in finding out more about the nesting behavior of these adorable birds? Then, keep reading.
American Robins are beloved icons of spring. Their red-orange potbellies and sweet-sounding calls are two of their best-known features.
They’re so well-loved that they’re the official bird for three states: Michigan, Wisconsin, and Connecticut!
Here’s another fun fact: robins are also the national bird of Great Britain. That makes them not only popular in North America, but in Europe as well!
These precious birds are such a treat. That’s why we wanted to learn as much as we can about them, starting with how they build their nests to how they raise their young.
On average, American Robins aren’t known for using old nests. The females simply find a safe location and start making a new one. They prefer making a new nest with each new brood, which can be exhausting for the females since robins can have up anywhere between two to four broods a year.
While they may not be known to reuse the same nest, there are instances where they build on top of old, pre-existing nest sites. Then, they remodel the broken-down nest to make it suitable for the upcoming nesting season.
If the old nest is in good condition, they may only need to add a few bits of twigs and mud here and there. That can be enough to restore it to its former glory.
However, if the old nest is pretty worn down, a female robin will have to resort to plan B, where they take only a few parts here and there. Then, they add bits of moss or dry leaves and some mud to construct a sturdier home.
Robins begin courtship in mid-January, early February. The breeding season typically starts in the middle of March, when spring rolls around.
The females will begin to lay their eggs anywhere between April and August. A female will generally have two broods, sometimes three or four, in every breeding season.
It lasts until the end of September, when temperatures start dropping. That’s when they leave their nests and migrate south where it’s warmer.
Author Note: It’s worth mentioning that some robins stay right where they are all year-round. However, they change their behavior to adapt to the cold and food scarcity.
Robin nests are typically bowl-shaped. They’re constructed in areas that provide adequate shelter from predators, as well as the cold and heat. This is usually in trees or bushes. Sometimes, they’ll even make their nests under the eaves of buildings.
These average-sized birds don’t like being too high up. That’s why nesting sites are located between five to 25 feet off the ground.
Being at this modest height also gives them a fair chance at protecting their young. After all, a bird’s nest basically functions as a baby incubator to protect the eggs from external factors until they’re ready to hatch.
Like we said earlier, females are the only ones responsible for setting up the nest. Yet, the males will usually help out by gathering the materials.
They collect as many twigs, leaves, and dry grass as possible. They’ll also use moss, lichens, and even ribbons or string to build a strong, sturdy nest.
When they have everything they need, the females put it all together using a bit of sticky mud. The whole process can take up to four days to complete.
Typical nests are six inches across. Their walls are four to six inches high to prevent the eggs or hatchlings from sliding out. The rounded inside area of the bowl-like nest is between three and a half to four inches wide.
Nevertheless, a good robin nest should safely house four growing nestlings. Since females usually lay anywhere from two to four eggs per breeding season, this is a decent enough size for the entire family.
An American Robin’s egg is light blue and is about the size of a quarter. The female will incubate the eggs for about two weeks.
Then, when they hatch, both parents care for the young for another two weeks until they’re strong enough to leave the nest on their own.
As we mentioned above, if you come across an old nest, it’s best if you leave it alone. You don’t want to inadvertently destroy a bird’s home or get attacked by a pair of over-protective robins.
There’s a phenomenon known as ‘nest-site fidelity.’ It’s common among many birds, including American Robins, and tends to become more prominent during nesting season.
For example, the males can get quite aggressive if they sense a predator—yes, that includes you—is coming too close to their nest. They’re actually known for their sudden attacks on anyone who gets within 10 feet from their nest.
They’ll swoop down extremely close to your head and squawk. This fake dive-bomb technique is a basic defense mechanism meant to scare you away. It’s also designed to divert your attention away from the nest site.
The females can be just as territorial, but they’re more sneaky. They don’t dive-bomb intruders. Instead, they give out a series of alarm calls.
Top Tip: These calls serve two purposes. The first is to shift your focus from the nest site to the sound.
The second purpose is they act as a warning signal. The female’s calls help warn the hatchlings to duck down and still as still as they can. When the threat is eliminated, the mother robin gives another call, telling her nestlings their home is no longer in danger.
Fun fact: nestlings poop after each feeding. Yet, surprisingly, robin nests are actually pretty clean, considering all the poop those little birds are producing.
It’s a tedious task left for mama and papa robin to deal with. However, a clean nest keeps parasites and pathogens away, which helps keep baby robins healthy and strong.
Moreover, maintaining a waste-free zone in the nest reduces the risk of unfavorable smells. Foul odors are like a calling card, inviting predators near and far to come and enjoy a tasty snack.
That’s why parents work round the clock to ensure their home is free of poop and unsightly smells. Here’s how they do it.
Author Note: Nestlings produce a fecal sac after each meal. This sac is basically a white, rolled-up bundle of excrements. Think of it as a tiny diaper for birds.
Parents take turns picking up each hatchling and lifting their rear in the air to remove the tiny diaper. Then, they carry it in their beaks and dispose of it at a safe distance away from the nest.
Maybe an American Robin family set up their home in your backyard, and you thought it was adorable. Then winter came around, and they all left you stuck with an abandoned nest.
Do you move it? Or do you keep it right where it is for the next nesting season?
Even though you might be tempted to move it to get rid of potential diseases and parasites, you better not. According to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, you can’t ‘transport’ any type of nest.
So, your only option is to contact your local State Fish and Wildlife Department and let them handle it.
The main reason behind this law is to protect nests and their young. If you move a nest, a mother robin will assume a predator has attacked it. As a result, it won’t even try to look for her nest or eggs.
Even if you take the mother to the new location of the nest, she won’t recognize it as her own. Most likely, she’ll just fly away, thinking it’s some other bird’s nest.
She’ll have no qualms abandoning it along with her eggs in the process, even if they’ve hatched.
So, do robins reuse their nests? No, they don’t.
The consensus is that the females make new nests with each breeding season.
Yet, what sometimes happens is they’ll use old nesting sites as their foundation.
This gives them a bit of a head-start and gives them some reassurance that they’ve picked a nice, safe place to raise their family.