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American Robins Have a European Counterpart

Do you know what a robin looks like? They are one of the most common birds in North America, and they are one of the most familiar birds too. 

A European robin (left) and an American robin. (Photos via Shutterstock)

Our robin that we are so familiar with has the same name as a bird native to Europe. In fact, our American robin got its name because it reminded early European settlers of that similar-looking bird back home. That bird is called the European robin. 

The physical similarities between American robins and European robins start with their orange breasts. Their brightly colored breasts are what make them so easy to identify. This was the feature that reminded European settlers of the robins back home.

The American robin's orange color extends nearly the full length of its breast. European robins have a shorter orange breast patch with white below.

The orange color is a little different too. An American robin has a more deep orange color, while European robins have a more brightly colored shade of orange. European robins also have orange faces, but American robins have dark-colored faces that match their wings and backs.


Words to know

Migratory: Habitually moving from place to place.

Scavenge: To search for and collect.

Temperate: Characterized by mild temperatures.


Both kinds of robins have dark-colored backs and wings — grayish-black for American robins and brown for European robins. American robins are the larger of the two birds. European robins are about 5 1/2 inches long, while American robins are between 8 inches and 11 inches long. American robins are also much heavier. They weigh up to 3 ounces, and European robins weigh less than 1 ounce. Do you know how much an ounce is? It’s about how much a pencil weighs.

These two birds do share a few other things in common besides their appearances. One such thing is their diet. American and European robins are insect eaters, but they don’t eat only insects. American robins also eat earthworms and a wide variety of fruits. Similarly, European robins eat fruits, seeds, worms and other invertebrates.

They also share a preference for similar habitats. Both like wooded areas, but they are both also common visitors to grassy open areas where they can scavenge for food. Just like our robins are a familiar sight in our yards and parks, European robins are a familiar sight in yards and parks where they live.

Both species of robins are common across their ranges. While bird populations overall have been declining for the past several decades, both American and European robins have increased their populations. For the American robin, their range includes almost the entire continent of North America except for far northern Canada and Alaska and far southern Mexico. The range for the European robin includes all of Europe as well as northern Africa and western Asia.

The two robins are also similar in that they have migratory and non-migratory populations. In more temperate parts of their ranges, most robins may not migrate. In areas that experience more harsh winter weather, robins may migrate to more temperate areas or change their behavior so they are not as often seen during the coldest periods.

Although their appearance, coloring and even behavior may be similar, American robins and European robins are not closely related in the bird world. American robins are thrushes, a group of songbirds with stocky builds and large eyes. European robins are old world flycatchers, a group of songbirds that specialize and are adapted for catching insects in flight. Other common thrushes include gray catbirds and Eastern bluebirds. Old world flycatchers are native to Africa, Asia, Europe and Australia, so there are none that we are familiar with here in the United States.


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