Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Robins of Renewal in the Garden

robin on nest in viburnum shrub

Hello Fellow Readers, The American robin is considered a sign of renewal adored in the garden. Though migratory birds, you can create a garden to keep them in your yard year-round— if I may share a story of my family of robins.

On Sunday, after “first call” with Miss Ellie, I looked upon the robins’ nest in the Doublefile Viburnum near the kitchen window. The favored white flowering shrub has been home for other robin families the last few years, maybe even this family, as they’ll return if it was a successful nesting spot the year before.

Male and female robins work as a team. 

I grew attached watching the momma and poppa working as a team. It’s the female that makes the nest; the male helps find materials. She’ll wiggle her body to form a bowl in the woven nest of sticks and grass, then lay three to five eggs that’ll hatch in about two weeks.

Each parent shares the role of sitting on the eggs. Like a tag team, I watched them passing the baton as one glides in, the next flies off. They mustered through two below-freezing nights and snow flurries on Mother’s Day. They sat firm, waiting for their babies to be born.

blue robins egg broken on pine bark mulch

A happy color. A sad day.

The iconic happy color of robins eggs

The color of their eggs inspired the Robins Egg Blue Crayola crayon. And Tiffany’s iconic blue box. A happy color. But a sad Sunday it came to be. The robins were gone. Half a blue shell was on the ground. Below it, the embryo of what was a new life. A heavy heart.

Blue jays and crows often snag robin eggs and babies. They stalk the nest then raid it when the parents are on the ground, gathering food. There was a flock of crows on the eve before squawking their eerie sounds. “Leave the robins alone,” I said out loud, though they weren’t near the nest then. I hoped my warning would keep them away.

Why robins symbolize renewal

Many admire robins found throughout North America. Often considered a symbol of good fortune, renewal, and new beginnings, they are among the first birds to lay eggs in the spring. The American robin (Turdus migratorius) is the state bird of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Connecticut.

The female’s tail feathers and head are grey, and their orange bellies are more muted than the male whose feathers are black. Young robins, called juveniles, have spots on their chests and shorter tails. Their perfect habitat is a large lawn (with no herbicides or pesticides), allowing easy access to worms. Plus, surrounding shrubs and trees for nesting and protection and water nearby.

Known as worm eaters, they also eat spiders, caterpillars, flies, moths, mosquitos, and beetles. In winter, fruits from shrubs become their mainstay— especially if they stay put rather than migrate.

Each baby bird can eat fourteen worms a day before they fledge the nest. That’s almost sixty worms for a nest of five that primarily the male provides. Then, the female is off preparing a nest for her next clutch.

Keeping robins in your garden year-round 

While robins are migratory, many stay year-round if food is abundant. Plant native species such as Serviceberry, Chokecherry, Raspberry, Blackberry, and Elderberry for summer food. Dogwood and Winterberry for fall berries. Plus, Crabapple, Highbush Cranberry, Red Cedar, Hawthorn, Bittersweet, and Hackberry for winter forage.

The following day after the sad Sunday, we saw a female robin land in the Doublefile Viburnum. I thought perhaps it was the momma looking for her eggs. She sang a song but didn’t linger.

“Maybe she’s pregnant again and is going to have more eggs,” Curt said to lift my spirits.

Robins early dawn and dusk call sounds like “cheer up, cheer up, cheer up, cheer up.” Hearing the visiting robin’s song helped me do just that.


robin in nestIt is now a week after the sad Sunday; a robin is sitting on the very same nest. A sign of renewal and new beginnings, indeed.

Garden Dilemmas?  (and now on your favorite Podcast App.)

This column is featured in Episode 16 of the Garden Dilemmas Podcast

A previous column featuring a robin familyOne World / Memorial Day – and about Doublefile Viburnum Angels

To hear robin calls check our The Cornell Lab – All About Birds – American Robin. 

Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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