Asked Questions about Robins:
I move a robin's nest?
Nest-site fidelity grows during the nesting season. The more time and energy the birds invest in the nest, the less likely they are to abandon it when disturbed. However, actually MOVING the nest is not merely a disturbance: it makes the entire nest environment DIFFERENT.
Is this because birds know to abandon a nest that appears to have been
discovered by a predator? This is a part of it, but actually moving the
nest makes it appear like a different nest. As the mother builds, she
is memorizing all the features around the nest. When those features are
gone, she may simply not even recognize her nest anymore. (I took care
of four baby Blue Jay nestlings, well feathered, after their nest and
its branches were knocked out of a tree in a storm. The people who found
it all recovered the nest and put it in another near-by tree, but even
with the babies calling, they simply didn't figure it out, and they'd
invested a LOT of time and energy into these babies already.)
This is still my best advice; however, Journey North readers have shared experiences that help us all learn while we wait for robins to write the book about what really happens!. Look for support of what scientists know about nest site fidelity, as well as how individual robins are smart enough to observe and learn—even to learn that sometimes nice people look out for ways to help robins:
A. How very, very sad. If the female was killed, the eggs are doomed. The male doesn't have a brood patch, an doesn't know how to brood eggs. If it was the male who died, the female might continue to incubate, but may just give the nest up for lost because the chances of bringing off more than one or two nestlings is very slight with just her to feed them. Also, the female starts focusing on a new batch of eggs after the young fledge, so the father is pretty essential for the babies' "finishing school" lessons on surviving. Outdoor roaming cats are a serious ecological problem, but also cause such heartbreaking individual losses. I'm very sorry. That said, please do write to let us know if one of the parents attends the nest, and what happens, as this is best way for scientists to keep on learning about robins and their individual differences.
Q. Is it common for a robin to build
more than one nest at a time? We have a pair of robins nesting under our
deck on the supporting beam. We have been watching the female fly off
to collect nesting material. She has built 2 nests within 5 feet of each
other. I thought at first she had started one and abandoned it, but she
has worked on them both and they are almost finished, and in 2 days! Can
you tell me any reason why she would do this? Could she be building her
second nest already for summer? Let me know if you have any ideas.
Q. Will a blue jay steal eggs from a robin's nest? We have been watching two nests in our yard. Yesterday I found an egg in another part of the yard. I checked one of the nests and all four eggs were gone. For some reason I'm thinking blue jays will rob a robin's nest. Is that what happened?
A. The main predators of robin eggs are snakes, squirrels, blue jays, and crows. (Deer eat a lot of bird eggs and nestlings, too, but only from ground nests.) Snakes swallow eggs on the spot, and since you found one egg in another part of the yard, a snake most certainly wasn't the culprit. Squirrels usually stay up in branches, and seldom drop their eggs, so I'm betting it wasn't a squirrel, either. Jays and crows are both egg and nestling eaters, and so it's hard to be sure which species raided your nest. Robins actually appreciate having jays around as long as they stay away from their nests, because jays are good at warning about other dangers. But it's heartbreaking to lose the eggs or nestlings of any nest to predators. And the worst problem with crows and jays is that both species are highly intelligent. If you are studying the nests in your yard, be sure that there are no crows or jays watching you. If they figure out that you're watching nests, they may start watching for you to lead them to their next supper.
Q. Help! We found a robin's egg in our yard. Is there anything we can or should do with it?
A. The best thing to do with an egg that you find is to simply leave it be. I know you're concerned about the little baby growing in it, but there is a big chance that there may not even be a baby in there. This may be an egg that wasn't fertilized, or didn't develop properly. After the other babies are a day or two old, the parents get rid of unhatched eggs just in case one of the growing babies accidentally crushes it. Rotten eggs are NO fun!
There is also a chance that there really was a healthy baby inside the egg. One likely case: a predator may have carried off the egg, and dropped it in a panic as the angry parents dive-bombed it. Although the egg looks fine on the outside, the baby inside may have been badly shaken during the flight and especially when it was dropped. If so, the baby inside may already be dead or may soon die, and if it does survive to hatch, there is a strong possibility that it will be badly deformed, making its short life unendurably painful.
People tend to both under- AND over-estimate the amount of food baby robins need, giving them too much in single
feedings and not enough over an entire day. The real parents spend literally every waking hour searching for food
for them, returning to the nest every few minutes all day long, from sunrise to sunset. Can you do this consistently
for several weeks? It's also very difficult to make a baby bird diet exactly balanced. Robins feed their young
worms, insects, spiders, and some fruits. Outdoors, the nest is shaded enough to protect from sun but gets a few
rays of sun each day, which the baby requires for manufacturing Vitamin D-3. Indoors, you need to provide this
vitamin, but it's very difficult to make the precise balance of calories and vitamins and minerals that natural
robin parents provide.
Help! Should we try to raise abandoned
eggs ourselves? A robin nest on our eaves had seven eggs
in it, and suddenly the robins are GONE! We haven't seen the mother in four
days, and we've been watching! What happened?
A. The robin has to have a completed nest before she has a place to lay her eggs. Usually she'll start within a day or two, but the timing can be affected by a few things: Both Mom and Dad Robin have to have good nutrition before they'll be ready to lay eggs. If the weather has been bad and she has to spend a lot of time looking for food, she may not have the energy. If it's been cold, she may be delaying because she won't be able to produce the heat necessary to incubate. The female has to ovulate before egg formation starts, and in a very late spring, she may not be ready even though the nest is built.
Q. My robin built a nest and then disappeared before laying eggs. What happened? A robin built her nest in our pear tree in the side yard and just finished it about two days ago, I have not seen her lately. Do they stay away while waiting to lay the eggs? I am hoping she has not been hurt or killed but I have not seen the male around lately either.
A. Here are some possibilities to explain why the robins have not come back to use the nest:
We would suggest that you give her just a few days to make sure it wasn't just an ovulation thing and she was indeed dallying until she was ready to start laying eggs. If she does not return after 2-4 days, go ahead and remove the nest. Any other robins that come will build their own nest.
A. While robins might repair or build on top of a previous nest, most of them build a new nest. This is best for many reasons. A used nest is a mess, stretched out and often home to insects or parasites and possibly poop. Take the nest down and the nest site will be ready for the next robin famiily.
Q: Did I harm the eggs in a robin's nest hidden in my hanging plant by accidentally pouring warm water over them? Before I knew the eggs were there (the plant is higher than I can see inside) I watered it with warm water, surely pouring water 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?
Q: Should I just quit watering it and let the plant die? 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. I don't mind losing the plant but it's nice cover and protects the nest. 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.
Q: How do we know if the bird inside a found robin egg is thriving? 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.
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.
Q: How long does it usually take a robin to build a nest? Are robins sometimes inept at nestbuilding? I have a robin who started a nest in my front porch light. It appears there is some dirt or mud in the shade and the raffia-type grasses hanging loose and stingy, with no structure, all around the outside of the shade. During the day I'll see the robin sitting on top of it or flying back and forth from it, but the nesting materials a rent' taking any shape. I'm wondering if the robin is actually considering the shade itself to be the nest, rather than building herself a normal nest, or if this is just a long process and the nest is still incomplete. She appears to be sitting on the light bulb when she's in the "nest." Is this normal behavior, or do I have a robin who just isn't too bright?
A. It takes two to six days for robins to build their nest. This robin sounds inexperienced. If this is not an appropriate place for her to nest, the quicker she figures it out the better. Sometimes tenacity if important, but this bird is wasting time and energy. The male may be frustrated that she is kind of stupid, or he may be be inexperienced too. There are usually more males in an area than females to this should not be a female without a mate.
Q. Would she be living someplace separate from the nest she is building? I don't see the robin in the "nest" in the evening. There weren't any eggs in there when I checked a couple weeks ago.
A. Remember that the nest is not a bed; it's an incubator and baby cradle, so the robin isn't supposed to be on the nest at night until she has a full clutch of eggs. Until then, she roosts on a branch.