As their name implies, songbirds represent a diverse group of birds known for their singing abilities. Common families of songbirds include finches, tanagers, thrushes, sparrows and wrens. Most often the songbird males sing the "primary song" that defines the species. They sing during spring and summer and for courtship and territory definition.
Songbirds are passerines, or birds who perch. They have gripping feet with three flexible toes directed forward, and one backward.
The American Robin is one of the widest ranging songbirds on the continent. Easily recognized by their distinctive coloration and song, robins are members of the thrush family. In breeding plumage, males have a darker head than females. Immature birds have speckled breasts.
In areas with harsh winters, robins migrate to warmer climates. Where winters are milder, as in the Puget Sound region, most robins remain through the winter.
Well-adapted to cities and suburbs, robins frequently gather in large flocks to search for earthworms on lawns, golf courses, and open fields. They also eat insects such as, beetles, weevils, and caterpillars.
Robins eat fruit, too, from grapes and crabapples to holly and mountain ash berries. They consume the most fruit during fall and winter when other foods become scarce.
Robins build cup-shaped nests of mud and grasses in trees, under eaves, and on roof gutters. The female incubates three to six blue eggs, and she may raise two or three broods per summer. Both parents take part in feeding the young, who first fly about two weeks after hatching.
Solving and preventing conflicts
The following tips apply to robins and most other songbirds. Although rarely responsible for property damage, songbirds sometimes behave in ways that may injure themselves and perplex humans.
Songbirds sometimes fly into windows and other reflective surfaces. Among the possible reasons:
- Windows may reflect nearby vegetation, therefore the birds think they are flying into real branches and shrubs.
- Buildings with picture windows can create an illusion of open space, especially if they are reflecting the sky.
- Birds may fly into glass if they see houseplants near the windows.
Prevention includes making the glass as visible as possible and breaking up the reflections from outdoors.
- Black plastic silhouettes of diving hawks on windows deter birds. They are available through catalogues and at bird specialty stores.
- Hang windsocks or other decorative items in front of the window.
- Move houseplants away from glass, and close curtains over windows and sliding glass doors.
Helping an injured bird
Birds who fly into glass can hurt or even kill themselves. If you find a bird injured by striking a window, wait a few minutes as he may recover and fly away. If he is unconscious or remains stunned after a few minutes, gently pick the bird up in a towel and put him in a ventilated box.
Keep the bird warm while you contact PAWS Wildlife Center at 425.412.4040 (located in Snohomish County, Washington). If you are not in the Puget Sound, contact another wildlife rehabilitation center in your area.
When birds attack your windows
During breeding season, male songbirds become territorial, and male robins in particular may exhibit a puzzling behavior. Perceiving an intruder when they see their reflections in a window or other reflective surface, robins may attack windows and car mirrors. They may repeatedly peck or fly at the glass for several days or as long as they can see their reflections.
To reduce the reflection, brighten the indoors with a light by a window. It also helps to close drapes or shades and to cover outside windows with bird netting, screen, paper, or fabric. Cover car mirrors with plastic bags or fold them against the side of the car so the reflective surfaces are hidden.
Protect your garden
Some species of songbirds, such as robins, eat fruit and berries. Protect trees and shrubs with bird netting secured at the bottom to prevent access from below. Strawberries can be protected with row cover.