Turdus migratorius (American robin)

Turdus migratorius
a robin in Kentucky eating wineberries

"Why are there people like Frank?" asks Jeffrey Beaumont. "Why is there so much trouble in this world?" Frank Booth, you will remember from Blue Velvet, is a psychopathic criminal—and young Jeffrey is an ostensibly normal young man trying to account for his own dark instincts. His love interest, Sandy, replies by telling Jeffrey about her dream—a dream about robins:

If you detect a note of satire in this clip, you are well on your way to enjoying director David Lynch's films. Thus, when the robins come back in the movie's "happy ending," they wind up standing for the same kind of plastic, white-American, middle-class drivel that Sandy sputters in the clip above rather than, um, the blinding light of goodness and truth.


The American robin's scientific name, Turdus migratorius, does not actually mean "the migrating turd," despite appearances. Turdus is actually Latin for "thrush" (the bird, not the throat condition) and the etymology of the English word "turd" is completely unrelated. Try telling that to a robin, however, and you are likely to receive a robin eye roll in return, since its unfortunate name is still Turdus migratorius, regardless of etymology. Or maybe your robin will, like the one above, tell you more directly what he thinks of your etymologies.

Robins are probably the most well-known and universally recognized birds in North America, so a detailed description is hardly necessary. They are similar to other thrushes in stature and size, but are easily separated by their orange-red breasts—and they look vaguely like brown thrashers, but not on close examination. Key features for the Midwestern version of the American robin include the orange-red breast, the dark gray upper parts and black head, the white marks around the eye, and the yellow bill.

Females tend to have paler heads and duller orange breasts, but figuring out the sex of robins can be very difficult. Juveniles have, depending on their age, whitish to pale orange breasts with prominent blackish spots.

The well-known cheerily, cheerily song of the American robin is distinctive, but can be confused with the songs of other birds (especially tanagers) in woodland settings.

Robins feed on a wide variety of foods—from worms to insects to berries—and can be found in fields, woods, and in urban areas. Many robins migrate south of the Midwest for winter, but some hang around, especially below the Great Lakes.

Range of Turdus migratorius

midwestern range

Turdus migratorius
nest and eggs in Illinois

Turdus migratorius
juvenile waiting to be fed, Illinois


Turdus migratorius
almost mature robin, Missouri


Turdus migratorius
adult, Illinois

Turdus migratorius
fledgling, Kentucky

References: Jaques 1947, Peterson 1980, Vanderhoff et al. (2016) in Rodewald 2017, Sibley 2014, Retter 2017.

Kuo, Michael & Melissa Kuo (August, 2017). Turdus migratorius (American robin). Retrieved from the midwestnaturalist.com website: www.midwestnaturalist.com/turdus_migratorius.html

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