If you have been working or playing outside in the snow this winter it is not unusual to hear the sounds of spring – the chirping of robins. The American Robin is now overwintering here in Minnesota thanks to the abundance of food made available to them.
Fruits comprise about 25 percent of a robin’s summer diet, 75 percent of their fall diet, and 60 percent of their winter diet. Flowering crabapple trees with persistent fruit – small apples that remain on the trees throughout the winter – have been increasingly planted in our suburban landscapes. The unexpected result of these ornamental flowering trees is the year-round presence of robins which used to winter in the southern and west coasts of the United States and into northern Mexico.
“Red Splendor” and “Prairie Fire” are two of the most popular flowering crabapples seen in the landscape and reach 20 to 25 feet high and wide at maturity. Their dark red bark and branches are an attractive feature seen against the winter’s snow. “Red Jade”, a weeping flowering crab, is small enough to be planted near the front or corner of a house. “Firebird” and “Lancelot” are also small trees with persistent fruit that can be planted near a window where small flocks of winter robins can be observed plucking the fruit from the trees. Winter robins have been noticed taking roasted peanuts from bird feeders to supplement their fruit diet.
Robins gather at heated birdbaths throughout the winter season. They are few of the overwintering birds that need open water. The Northern Cardinal, juncos, and nuthatches, will consume snow as their source of water. Ideally, winter birdbaths should be placed 15-feet from trees and shrubs to provide cover from predators. The water should be changed every day. Winter birdbaths can be as simple as a shallow ceramic bowl, a few inches deep, with a heating element placed in it. Birdbaths with heating elements already inside them are also readily available. A 25-foot blue, winter extension cord plugged into a garage outlet and leading outside to the heated birdbath is all that is needed to complete an important landscape component for our overwintering songbird’s habitat.
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