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VERIFY: Are robins a sure sign of spring?

Robins seem to be more active during late February and early March, but does that mean spring is officially here?

MOLINE, Ill. — Winter is quickly winding down and the days are getting longer. We often look toward animals to determine if the warmer temperatures are here to stay. The robin is a very popular bird we look for when spring is approaching. Is the sight of this bird a sign that warm weather has arrived? Let's verify. 


Are Robin's accurate indicators that warmer temperatures are here to stay? 


Our experts say that no, the robin is not a reliable sign that spring has officially arrived. If you look hard enough during the winter, you may spot some around our hometowns. 


Our source is Dr. Brian Peer who is an ornithologist at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois. Dr. Peer states, "For me, you know, it's not the robin because I see... I see robins, you know, January 1st... the coldest days of the year." Robins are so commonly known to the average person and very easy to spot in our yards. It's not uncommon, however, to spy them in our hometowns during the winter. 

It all has to do with visibility. In the winter they become harder to spot because they are in survival mode and not raising chicks. "Then the robins become much more visible in the spring and the summer and you know most years I have robins nesting in my yard or very close by, so you really can't miss them if you're looking outside and kind of paying attention to what's happening out there. So I think it really has to do with visibility" said Dr. Peer. 

This doesn't mean robins don't migrate. They are short-distance migrators. A study Dr. Peer discussed with us followed a group of robins from different areas of the United States. In the study, robins who spent the summer in Alaska migrated as far south as Montana, while robins in Massachusetts traveled to South Carolina. This explains why we do have some robins in the Quad City region during the winter. "So the robins that we have here during the winter in all likely hood were somewhere much further north," says Dr. Peer. 

Is there a more reliable bird that can indicate that spring is in the air? "That is the true harbinger of spring are the Red-winged Blackbirds. And they're not going to be as noticeable for your average, you know, person, because they're not always going to be in your yard like a robin, is or a cardinal" said Dr. Peer. So while you may need to look a little harder to spot the Red-winged Blackbirds are your best indicator that warmer weather is here to stay! Even better news? Dr. Peer let us know he spotted his first Red-winged Blackbird on his campus this week! Spring has sprung! 

Read more about the red-winged blackbird from the Audubon Society, here

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