Frequently Asked Questions about Robins: General Information

Q. I think I heard a robin in England. Is that possible? While in England a few years ago, it was around dusk and I heard the distinct chirping of what I thought was a robin. And in the shadows of early evening the movements as well were the robin we know here in NJ. But when I saw the same bird in the daylight, it was a dark brown, almost black, with no orange-red on it. Are they related?

A. No, you didn't hear an American Robin. What you saw was a European Blackbird. (Remember the nursery rhyme
, four-and-twenty were baked in a pie? Those are the birds!) YES, they are very closely related to our robin--actually in the same genus! Meanwhile, the Robin Red-breast of England isn't at all related to our robin! Homesick Europeans who settled in America named our birds for the ones they missed at home. Our robin was bigger and duller than theirs, but was the closest thing they could find to fit the bill, so to speak.

Q. What are the biggest dangers robins face?

A. Most robins die from cats, hawks, and other predators, from accidents such as bonking into windows, car strikes, and electrocution, infectious diseases, and poisoning. Insecticides can be very harmful to robins. If you use lawn sprays, be sure that they don't have insecticides as well as the weed-killing herbicides and fertilizers.

Photo by Stephen Lang

True albino robin
Photo Steve Lang

Q. I have a robin in my yard that has a lot of white patches on its body. Is is an albino?

A. There are many forms of albinism. A true albino robin has no body pigments at all, including in the eyes. Birds lacking any pigments in their eyes have no protection from sunlight, and go blind when fairly young. But if a bird has normal eye pigments, sometimes it can survive a long time with pure white feathers. A bird in this situation is called a partial albino. So are birds that have white patches here and there on otherwise normal-colored plumage. In some partial albinos, white patches are perfectly symmetric. In others, they are more randomly arranged. Some birds are born partial albinos, and sometimes they develop patches of white after traumatic events, such as being attacked by a hawk.

Some robins don't have any pure white patches, but DO appear far more pale than others. Ornithologists call this condition leucism or dilution. This is a genetic condition when birds produce less-than-normal amounts of normal pigments.