Answers from the Robin Expert
Spring 2012

Teaching Suggestions

Special thanks to Laura Erickson for providing her time and expertise in responding to your questions! Look for answers to questions like these:

  • Could you hatch a robin egg you found?
  • Do robins skate on ice?
  • What Website can I bookmark to find out how to help birds in trouble?


Laura Erickson

Questions and Answers

From: Saskatchewan College Student

Q:, I've seen a Robin walking on thin, clear ice! What was it doing? I don't think worms would be under there? Was it skating?

A: In early spring, robins are drawn to marshes, shorelines, and other frozen wetlands. The first ice thawing reveals interesting insects. Some berry plants may be growing near shore, too. And tiny holes in ice may reveal little fish and insects that the robin can pull out.

I don't know whether your particular robin was searching for food or just exploring. The one thing I know is that he was not skating!

Q: I have cowbirds in my area and I've read that Robins are susceptible to cowbird parasitism. Through my 5 years of being a Project Nestwatch volunteer, I've never seen cowbird eggs in Robin nests. Does it actually happen or is it rare?

A: Cowbirds virtually never parasitize robin nests. Cowbirds usually select species that are smaller than they are, so their egg will be higher in order to get more of the mother’s heat to hatch first. And robin beaks are large enough that they can easily toss out any cowbird egg that did get laid in their nest.

Q: Should I discard cowbird eggs if I see any?

A: Technically, cowbirds are protected species. I strongly doubt that you'd ever find a cowbird egg in a robin nest, but if you did, it would be your decision—based on your system of ethics, any special needs of robins might have in your area, and the legal requirements for your state.

Q: What is the very first thing the male robin does when it returns and knows it is home? Does he sing right away or does he look for food?

A: When he arrives after a long flight, he often sings just once or twice, and then pigs out! He’s hungry after that long journey. But singing is very important, and he does it a lot the first few days, any time that he can take a break from eating.

From Chuen

Q: I am wondering if I purchase soil from a store (without worms in it before), will worms emerge from the soil eventually? I guess I am wondering where do worms come from if the soil originally started with no worms?

A: Baby worms come from adult worms reproducing. If worms have come out of the soil and you added nothing, there were worm eggs or tiny worms in there to begin with, when you bought it. If the worms came along after the soil was mixed with other soil, plants, or other things, those might have introduced the worms.

From Marika

Q: My daughter found an intact Robin egg in the grass. There was no nest anywhere. We took it home wondering if the bird was still alive in its egg. we are currently trying to keep it by putting it in an abandoned nest under warm light. How do we know if the bird is thriving?

A: You are going to be for serious heartbreak. If a robin egg is on the ground like this, it was either infertile and dumped by the parents, and won't hatch—or was carried off by a jay or crow, and the robin parents chased them and forced the thief to drop the egg. The shaking and dropping could have badly damaged the embryo, and if the egg did hatch, the baby would not be likely to survive long.

Even if the egg were healthy, most of us just don't see all the work that goes into incubation. the right temperature is important, but so is humidity, and so is frequent turning to ensure that no part of the growing chick gets dried out or stuck to the shell. Then if it doe survive to hatch, keeping this tiny chick alive is very, very difficult to do successfully, even by a trained wildlife rehabilitator. These are some of the reasons it is against state and federal laws to keep any wild bird egg or chick.

From: Marlene

Q: It’s been three days since I found these baby robins and since then I’ve been giving them wet bread and water.  Then yesterday I went online and searched up what to feed baby birds and one of them said canned dog food so since I have a dog I decided to try it because I think they were getting tired of soggy bread. I gave bread to them once and the birds seemed fine and now their droppings are coming out different colors.  I just want to know if by giving them about two bites (to each bird,) will it kill them?  I’m very unsure of what to do and when I tried to find a near by rehabilitator I found nothing!  I would really appreciate your help and advice on what to do.

A: In an absolute emergency, the wisest food to give a baby bird is a powdered blend mixed with water that you’d hand feed a baby parrot, such as Kaytee Exact.  But it is illegal to keep wild birds, even with good intentions, because birds have a great many needs that people don’t understand without a lot of training and/or experience; we’d be violating the Migratory Bird Act by encouraging anyone to attempt this without state and federal permits.  To find the nearest rehabber, go to

From: Patty

Q: A robin has laid three big eggs in a nest she quickly made in my hanging Lobelia plant.  Before I knew the eggs were there (the plant is higher than I can see inside)I watered the plant with warm water, surely pouring it directly over at least one of the eggs.  The mother is still sitting on the nest. What's the chance that I've already harmed the eggs?

A: Anything that is outdoors has to be at least a little waterproof. If the eggs weren’t sitting in water for longer than a few minutes, the ones that got wet should be fine.

Q: While the nest is in the middle of the full plant, and technically I could water around the edges, I'm afraid I will harm the eggs and baby birds when they hatch.  Should I just let the plant die?  I don't mind losing the plant but it's nice cover and protects the nest.  Thank you for your help.  By my calculations the eggs have been in the nest at least four days.

A: It should be fine to water around the edge, but give the mother time to fly off each time, and don’t water after the babies’ feathers are growing thick and they get close to fledging.


From: Sam

Q: There has been a nest in our yard, and the birds and nest have been constantly falling out of the tree. We have moved the nest and are wondering if it is a bad thing to do. Will the parents be able to find the babies or should we move the nest back where we found it?

A: Is this a robin nest? They tend to fall apart when they fall out of a tree, because the mud crumbles, and so the nest would be difficult to replace. Of course, other nests aren't easy to replace, either. Normally when there are tiny nestlings and a fallen nest, we try to get it back in place by putting it in something like a blueberry basket, and then place that basket sturdily in the tree's branches.

This is a good website to bookmark for times when you need assistance for birds in trouble: Unfortunately, sending an email to any website can't help in an immediate crisis.