In last week's column, I mentioned hearing American robins singing in the early morning hours. Many residents of Prescott have moved here from other parts of the country where they had robins and are pleasantly surprised to discover we have robins here as well.A check of Dr. Carl Tomoff's "The Birds of Prescott, Arizona" shows American robins are a common summer resident and fairly common in winter. Robins both breed and winter here, but their abundance varies by season.
I am frequently asked by customers how they can attract robins to their yard. Perhaps the most effective way is to provide a source of water. It can be a simple setup such as a plastic tray typically used to put under a potted plant or a more extravagant permanent water feature such as a pond with recirculating water.
Another way to attract robins is by creating a backyard habitat that appeals to them. Planting berry-producing trees and shrubs is an excellent way to attract not only robins but other bird species as well. In the Prescott area, we have a variety of native trees and shrubs that produce berries which are beneficial to have in your yard - including juniper, Wright silk tassel, manzanita, hackberry, hollyleaf buckthorn, serviceberry and many other plants. If you are interested in a list of native plants that will attract wilds birds to your yard, I invite you to stop by the store, and we can provide you with this information.
Robins change their diet seasonally. In spring and summer they primarily eat insects and invertebrates. When you picture a robin, the classic image that comes to mind is that of a plump bird pulling a large earthworm out of a well-watered lawn. However, once we start getting freezing temperatures in the fall, robins switch their diet to berries. When we start experiencing hard frosts on a regular basis, there are very few insects to be found, and it would be very difficult to pull worms out of the soil when the ground is frozen.
If you want to supplement what robins are finding in nature, one option is to put out a live food source such as mealworms. Many folks in the Prescott area feed peanuts in the shell to our resident western scrub-jays. The jays can be 'trained' (or they have you trained) to appear promptly at the same time each day in anticipation of a fresh supply of peanuts being set out. You can also 'train' robins to come to a feeder by consistently putting out a fresh supply of live mealworms at the same time each day.
In addition to providing mealworms, you can also put out pieces of fresh fruit on a daily basis. There are two easy ways to do this-using a fruit feeder to impale fruit onto the feeder, or using a shallow tray feeder. Placing chunks of apples, strawberries, watermelon, grapes, blueberries, or even setting out a handful of raisins is a great way to attract robins to your yard.
The biggest challenge in attracting robins to a feeder is the 'discovery phase.' Robins do not eat birdseed, so they are not accustomed to coming to feeders. To speed up the process of robins finding a mealworm/fruit feeder, put the food you are offering as close as possible to their water source. Since robins readily come to water, it is likely that they will then discover the delectable goodies you are putting out for them.