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Photo © Keith Williams
Photo © Zina Horne

The Earliest Robin On Record

Earlier this month, NestWatcher Ed Laster surprised us by reporting an American Robin building a nest in his neighbor’s yard in Arkansas. When the nest building developed into egg-laying, we wondered if this might be the earliest robin clutch in our database. As it turns out, it was the earliest clutch that could be verified (one additional record in Kentucky was not definitive).

The eggs were laid sometime between December 30, 2019, and January 6, 2020. Because the bird was still nest-building in late December, we suspect the eggs were likely laid in early January, but no later than January 6 as we know that three eggs were present on January 8. Ed reports that the eggs were abandoned as of January 13, an expected outcome for such an early nest.

Why do birds sometimes do this? We hypothesize that the subtle increase in day length after the winter solstice (December 21, 2019) might have stimulated this robin to begin the nesting process. It is increasing day length in the spring, rather than temperature, which triggers hormones responsible for reproduction in most temperate songbirds. Ed’s observations demonstrate that every record adds value and is worth submitting!

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Cornell Lab of Ornithology