Robin migration: When it starts and why you might see robins during the winter

american robin on rocks

Each year, since I was a little kid, my mom and I take guesses about when we will see the first robins of the year.

Now that I live in northwest Iowa and she lives in eastern Iowa, she usually sees them first, so I usually guess earlier than I would expect to see them here.

However, sometimes people will see a robin in the middle of winter and think spring is on its way. That’s not quite an accurate predictor, because robin migration can be quite varied. Here are some fun facts about robin migration.

Some robins don’t migrate.

American robin breeding grounds are throughout Alaska and most of Canada, but they also spend time year-round throughout the vast majority of the U.S. On their range map (click here for range map), the only specifically overwintering grounds for the robin is in southern points of the U.S. and Mexico.

(Read about spring waterfowl migration)

If there are robins around you in the winter, you might not see them, because they spend more time roosting in trees and less time looking for food in your yard like they would during breeding season.

Some robins also just move as far as they need to in search of fruit. They might move a little bit and then have to fly a bit farther south when they need a more abundant supply of fruit and then fly a little farther south when they need more food.

american robin with blurred background

Robin food loves 37-degree temperatures.

As ground thaws in the spring, robins begin to dig for earthworms and insects. It is because of those food sources that robins tend to start showing up, or at least becoming more visible to human populations, when temperatures hit 37 degrees. It is not that robins themselves like that temperature but because their food does. Robins migrate in response to food more than to temperature.

Robins also eat different meals at different points in the day. Have you ever heard the phrase, “The early bird catches the worm”? In the morning, robins eat more earthworms, and by afternoon they switch to fruit.

(Learn about birds that overwinter in Iowa)

Singing is key.

Marking where robins are first sited in the spring can be confusing because of the factors above. Robins that are spotted might not be birds that are migrating north and instead might be birds that are overwintering.

The biggest key to spotting robins that are migrating to their breeding grounds is singing. American robins typically don’t sing — there are exceptions — until they arrive at their breeding territory because a song is the way that male robins defend their territory.

It just sounds like spring, doesn’t it?

robin fledgings in the nest


  1. Maeve on March 6, 2020 at 8:52 am

    Just saw my first robin in Kitchener, ON Canada on March 5th 2020.
    Then woke up to six inches of snow.

  2. Steve on February 22, 2020 at 8:25 am

    This mornings walk was accompanied by a chorus of Robins on the ground around the pines and azaleas here in Charleston SC. 37 degrees and clear, glorious way to start the day!

  3. Ava on February 20, 2020 at 2:26 pm

    Saw my first Robin of 2020 in Indianola, Iowa 2-20-2020. Hoping for an early Spring!

    • Elizabeth on February 22, 2020 at 7:49 am

      Seeing them in Waukee too. The sounds of spring are back!

      • Nancy Rubscha Palmer on March 6, 2020 at 4:39 pm

        Recently moved to central Florida & just saw my 1st Robin here! So exciting! When I lived in northern NY we could hardly wait to see them while waiting for spring!! And their music (song) is beautiful too ❤

      • Chloe E Gray on March 9, 2020 at 7:08 am

        Saw my first Robbin yesterday 03/08/2020 in upstate New York.

    • Maryann Ranahan on February 23, 2020 at 8:33 am

      The joys of bird watching. It is February 23, 2020 New England, 30 minutes outside of Boston to the south and I just witnessed a flock of Robins enjoying the holly berries outside my front window. I also witnessed some of these cuties eating the berries from a privet hedge. I’ve never seen Robins eat privet berries but they must’ve liked them as the bush in now bare of berries. Looking forward to more birdwatching as the days get warmer.

    • Bill Pillsbury on February 23, 2020 at 1:03 pm

      Sherman Hill in Des Moines 2-23-20 at high noon. 1 last blizzard assured!

    • Harold Giddley on March 7, 2020 at 5:41 pm

      Heard one on Thursday but could not locate…..have yet to spot near Green Bay

  4. Nancy Decker on February 20, 2020 at 1:30 pm

    The big robin visit is on here in Columbia SC, with large flocks streaming in and populating shrubs, tall pine tree branches, trees and the ground. This is an annual mid-February event in this location for the past 8 years! I’m awaiting the other February bird event from the blujebirds; I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve counted up to 160 in my front yard, mostly on the ground and bunches in the dogwoods, like a moving, blue carpet! I’ve had about 30 in the backyard around the feeders and getting assorted goodies including mealworms since late January.

  5. Isabella on February 19, 2020 at 11:06 am

    I’m just outside of Ottawa, ON and I’ve got about five robins perched up on my fence. It mid-February so I’m very surprised to see them. Usually, robins don’t appear until March in these regions.

    • Rob on March 1, 2020 at 2:53 pm

      Saw my first Robin in Eldora Iowa on 1 March 2020

  6. William R Dawson on February 16, 2020 at 11:38 am

    Had a large group of robins in our yard this morning in Mount Dora, Florida. Love to see them, it reminds me that Spring is on the way!

    • Chip on February 20, 2020 at 1:39 pm

      We live in The Villages,FL. Earlier today (8am till noon) we had hundreds and hundreds of robins pass through. They were in trees, roofs of home lawns and large flicks overhead. We had never seen this before. When they moved they took off in a northwesterly direction. Awesome site. For us, a once in a lifetime moment.

  7. Nancy Buffalini on February 13, 2020 at 4:20 pm

    I had a flock of robins here late afternoon eating berries from palm tree. Rarely see them here in southwest Florida.

  8. Helena wann on February 5, 2020 at 2:20 pm

    February 5th 2020, Saint Thomas Mo woke this morning to a sight I’ve never seen before thousands of robins on front lawn i will never forget it was just amazing im truly blessed.

    • Shannon on February 7, 2020 at 8:56 pm

      February 7th saw a Robin coming and checking the nesting tree today out side my office window in north western part of Ohio. Always a sign if seeing Robin’s around, spring is coming soon..boost my spirts.

    • Linda J. Crist on February 18, 2020 at 6:57 am

      Huge flock of singing robins here on Jan. 13, 2020, eating berries in my cedar forest. Happens in Branson West MO (my location) in mid. Feb. every year.

  9. Christie Todd on January 28, 2020 at 10:35 pm

    I walked out my door this morning here in Portland Oregon, and was greeted by so much robin song it blew me away. In a good way of course – I love them! I could see them flying around my neighborhood from tree to tree. I thought January 28th was very early for them to be this far north, but it has been a mild season, and very rainy the last few days. Good for worms I suppose. I just hope we don’t get a late cold snap. I want them to stick around for awhile!

  10. Greg Smith on January 28, 2020 at 3:02 pm

    A flock in the yard today (Jan 28) here in Maryland. This is the earliest I’ve ever seen Robins in the yard.For many years, my Mother recorded the first robin in the yard and it was almost always late Feb or early Mar. It’s been a mild Winter but we usually get our snow in Feb.

  11. JUDY on January 25, 2020 at 10:49 am

    I just commented yesterday that in a short while the Robins would be here. Today they are here January 25, 2020 in Ocala, Florida. Soon there will be over 100 of them in my backyard. Perhaps more. Love seeing them.

    • Shirley on January 31, 2020 at 7:11 am

      Is this common I’m kind of new to Florida and I’ve been here about 7 years and I believe this is the 1st year that I have seen so many robins in my yard I live in port Saint Lucie

  12. Susan on January 25, 2020 at 9:18 am

    Large group of Robins in my fields . Greenville SC Area- it’s been mild and rainy this winter. Jan 25,2020 I’m surprised to see them!

    • Mark on January 31, 2020 at 8:32 am

      I’m in se Iowa it’s Jan 31 heard Robin’s singing this morning at about 8:00 am

  13. Isaac Bryant on January 24, 2020 at 12:51 pm

    I’m at work now and looking at a large amount of robins from my window it’s January 24, 2020 at 1:45 pm I’m in Birmingham Farms Mich. Shouldn’t they be will south of here?

    Isaac Bryant

    • Lee on January 26, 2020 at 7:08 pm

      I’m in Northern California Ukiah it’s the 26 of January 1000’s overhead going north!

    • Gail Ann on February 19, 2020 at 5:27 pm

      Large flocks of robins appeared here in the Antelope Valley ( Palmdale) in California a few days ago. I’ve only been seeing them here for a few years, so I don’t know if this is their usual route. A beautiful sight to see!

  14. lori rumbaugh on January 23, 2020 at 10:44 am

    They are all in my yard today. Avonmore pa

  15. Joan Stanton on January 23, 2020 at 9:49 am

    Yes today I saw a whole mess of robins in my back yard. January 23, 2020

  16. Virginia Ruth on January 19, 2020 at 5:03 pm

    I am currently have a large group of american Robin’s flying north over my property. Numbers in the thousands!!!!! South central missouri. Just north of Bull Shoals lake dam.

    • Susan on January 20, 2020 at 7:15 pm

      Today I saw hundreds of robins in the trees around my house in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania! I was surprised to see them here this time of year!

      • Melissa on February 6, 2020 at 1:15 pm

        I just counted over 70 of them in a field in the north suburbs of Pittsburgh. 2/6/2020

    • KT on January 29, 2020 at 6:05 pm

      Yes I’m in Kansas City Missouri. I have seen hundreds of Robin’s singing in my trees every morning since Jan 25 2020. Current temps 45- 25 degrees. I put out some water in a raised cookie sheet outside near glass door they came to it in minutes.

  17. Toni R Greim on January 9, 2020 at 5:31 pm

    Kansas City, Missouri Jan 9th 2020. Two males are sparring it’s 5:30 pm, sun almost completely gone. They have been at it for a while this evening. It was 68 degrees today.

  18. Susan Ford on November 22, 2019 at 10:29 am

    For several weeks we have had dozens of robins at our birdbath and water dishes. We are in the northern Sacramento Valley near Red Bluff, CA. They drink water almost constantly but ignore the feeders. While ten or so are on the ground sipping from bowls or bath another dozen are in the trees. We have never had so many robins in our 30 years of observing backyard birds. Perhaps this water drinking frenzy is due to our drought and unusually high temperatures for late fall.

    • Deborah on January 2, 2020 at 1:56 pm

      Just saw a flock of Robins 30-40 in my back yard I guess they are flying south from Easley SC. They are beautiful. Jan 2,2020.

      • Donna on January 9, 2020 at 7:39 am

        We live in Sevierville, TN… by Douglas Lake…. we are witnessing thousands…. I mean thousands of robins… never in my life have I seen such a site! They seem to roost to the east mountains and at dawn fly west to the lake area….. birdbath drinking is non stop! It is quite a site to see…. blessed to witness this!,,,

        • Linda Bergenstein on February 7, 2020 at 7:38 am

          Yesturday, we had thousands of Robin’s in the yard. I am 59 yrs old and have never before seen more than 5 or 6 in yard at a time.
          What a beautiful site.
          Feb. 6th 2020
          Warrenville, SC

    • Lu-Ann on January 31, 2020 at 8:13 am

      My yearly robin visits have begun . Jensen Beach, Florida . They love my backyard . I have two huge mango trees they like to rest in and they love my bird baths . My first arrivals came on January 30,2020 . Today there were even more !! I wish I could post my pictures and videos here .

  19. Alison on November 11, 2019 at 7:44 am

    I was just wondering when they’d appear here in central FL. All winter they flock over our house at sunrise then again at sunset to roost in the nearby woods. It’s an amazing sight!

    • Donna on November 18, 2019 at 8:16 am

      Hi Alison – I’m in the Boston area and just saw a whole tree of robins. It look like they were packing up to leave for warmer weather— I will be curious to see if they’re around the rest of the week.— HAPPY Robin watching – Donna

      • Ted Lane on December 27, 2019 at 11:06 am

        Hundreds of Robins feeding in a Gum Tree in Starke, FL on 12/2019. They flock to the Gum Tree or Pear Tree about this time every year.

    • Monica on December 6, 2019 at 8:25 am

      December 6 2019
      Good morning Alison. Awoke here in Venice FL to the sounds of MANY Robins and raucous Common Grackles in the trees in the preservation land behind us. Reminded me of spring migration on Cape Cod! Nice to see it all in reverse here and … no snow!!

      • Mary OBrien on January 3, 2020 at 11:28 am

        Backyard full of Robin’s today!

  20. Jerry on November 6, 2019 at 9:42 pm

    November 06 2020- about 16:00 hours (4 pm). Just finished seeing hundreds of robins in wave after wave flying about back yard, roosting in trees, flying away, only to be replaced by more and more and more,repeating the pattern for about 30 minutes and then they were gone! I have never seen a spectacle like this live before-on television perhaps,but never in person,it was pretty amazing. Markdale, Ontario, Canada

    • Teresa on November 7, 2019 at 1:43 pm

      Just walked outside to a yard full of robins feasting on our dogwood berries and it almost seems as though they’re having a party flying here and there chasing each other. I’m in NW Georgia USA.
      November 7, 2019

    • See on November 8, 2019 at 8:29 am

      I’m watching about 20 Robins now on November 8th 2019 in NE Ohio by Lake Erie eating the tiny crab apple berries from my tree .

  21. Carl Dobson on November 3, 2019 at 7:00 pm

    Watched a very large number of Robins traveling south this afternoon in the fields just west of Bentonville AR. It was a disorganized group of many thousand passing through for about two hours. Some would peel off and land in our yard looking for food. Observed up to twenty birds in the yard at any give. Time. At evening many were see brooding in nearby woods

  22. Angie Maltese on October 31, 2019 at 12:01 pm

    Just saw a female American robin in our mountain ash tree eating berries & perching on the tree branches. I haven’t noticed a robin in our yard since mid-August. We had 2 successful robin nests this past spring/summer in our backyard. So happy to have seen one. I live in Thunder Bay,Ontario Canada in Northern Ontario on the tip of Lake Superior. According to the map, they aren’t supposed to be here year round.

    • Lucy on November 3, 2019 at 2:07 pm

      I have a pair of robins eating berries from my mountain ash as well. I live inSault Ste Marie Ontario at the point where Lake Superior connects to the St Marys River…we are twin cities with Sault Ste Marie Michigan!

  23. DStuart on October 30, 2019 at 9:33 am

    We woke up to see a bunch of Robins around our backyard and hanging around the birdbath, so nice

  24. Harriet Perez on October 1, 2019 at 9:02 am

    For the past two days I’ve seen several Robin using our birdbath. Usually not seeing them now but they must still be getting food in our part of Illinois

    • Ashley N. on October 19, 2019 at 9:57 am

      I just spotted 3 robins outside of my bedroom window. I live by Madison, WI. I haven’t seen others in weeks.

  25. Christi Sweet on September 3, 2019 at 2:47 pm

    Just wondering why I haven’t seen any robins in my yard for awhile. There are so many other birds that I didn’t realize it until a couple of days ago. I live in Northern Kentucky.

    • Laurie Goodhart on October 7, 2019 at 12:14 pm

      I’m in upstate NY and haven’t seen or heard them since early spring this year. Not normal at all. I have 8 acres with forest, wild fields, and mowed areas. They should be here in abundance, as they have been my whole life.

  26. Jim Budde on August 4, 2019 at 4:23 pm

    Thank you. Have been thinking of robins’ migratory patterns and learned a lot from your article

    • Martha Boesch on September 15, 2019 at 8:15 am

      Seeing Robin’s in SE Texas. Its mid September, 2019. Seems early in the season. Thanks.

      • Thomas Williams on September 30, 2019 at 8:13 am

        Seeing the here in Northern VA also!