Wading Robins


I did a double take when down by the river this week. Off in the distance I saw what looked like shore birds doing their little sprint across the shallows. The quick run then even faster halt, little splashes into the air. I moved in slowly not to startle the birds and the closer I got I realized, these waders were robins.

It is not odd seeing robins in a pool of water, but in 4°F? And this is no ordinary pool of water either. It is the Niagara River rapids area.


And they were in the icy waters looking for food. I never saw a robin in the Niagara River before, let alone in frigid winter weather. Drinking from icy streams is not unusual, but these birds were dining, drinking and bathing. Robins in winter, who knew? This post follows, Why Are Robins Still Here in Winter?, a question I posed earlier.


And it is COLD!


It was a small flock of maybe ten robins. I sat down in the snow for 20 minutes watching them and wondering how they braved the icy waters. They stayed in the water long after I stopped watching them too.

It does seem that bathing puts these birds at risk, but they are designed to do it safely.  The feathers of a healthy bird shed most of the water, keeping it from penetrating into the insulating down.

Ever notice the water rolling off the back of a duck when it is paddling around in freezing water?  It is the same for our songbirds who can shed and shake water from their plumage.  Dirt interferes with the feather barbules that keeps water out, so birds will clean them often.


I thought this nearby spot above was more favorable and protected for the robins, but they chose a more open area in the flowing part of the river. I guess there was more opportunity for food.


Birds do look for open water when thirsty, will eat snow, and sometimes can catch snowflakes midair. See the leaping robin above?


Here it is before the leap, just wading.


Take a look at the photos and tell me if you would think to see robins here in winter?


Taking a bath no less…


For at least five minutes…


If they don’t keep feathers in fine working order, feathers lose insulating value. A clean bird is a warm bird so they say, so bathing even in these frigid temperatures is something they must do.


So who knew the Niagara River was so vital to a robin in winter?

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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30 Responses to Wading Robins

  1. This is a fascinating look at robins’ behavior. It’s weird that we seem to know more about exotic animals than we do about the animals that live in our own backyards.

  2. pepaulmier says:

    It is strange to see robins in winter, I find it is a recent behaviour, we had one here in our backyard last year that came in January and would eat what ever from the sumac trees. I have always enjoyed the first time we see them at the end of winter, we know spring is just around the corner.

  3. Those photos were magnificent. Yhank you for sharing that unusual and beautiful experience! I agree with Connie, above, that we seem to focus on more exotic animals and yet the ones right in our homes and backyards are every bit as wonderful and fascinating!

  4. Hi Donna, of course I don’t know a thing about your area nor the Niagara…but robins are here where I live year round. And since I have a stream/waterfall in my backyard, they wade in that and bathe, eat bugs and drink from it in all temperatures, as well. Recently it was frigid here (remember the arctic blast that gripped a lot of the nation?!) and most of the stream froze over but I saw them walking across the water and poking their heads into areas where they could get some water. I love to watch them…along with all the other birds. You’ve got some super photos there! I always enjoy them 🙂 PS I cannot log into wordpress using my google/blogger account so have to connect using facebook. Have a great day, Donn 🙂

  5. The Editors of Garden Variety says:

    I didn’t know they were this active during the winter! What an amazing opportunity to catch nature at its finest. Beautiful photos by the way.

  6. Amazing photos of the robins in winter. Especially seeing the one taking a bath. A few years ago we saw a robin in February at Lake Placid, NY and it was about 4F degrees there too. You just don’t expect to see them around here in winter. Thanks for sharing these photos.

  7. The photos of robins taking a bath are so cute. They look like it is downright warm out.

  8. alesiablogs says:

    I have had a lot of robins this year also even though we are not as cold as you guys. Maybe its some kind of sign. : )

  9. franzisofie says:

    Beautiful birds. Really sweet when they are bathing in the water that must be cery cold.

  10. Robins really do like to bathe. Next they’ll be going over the falls in a barrel!

  11. Phil Lanoue says:

    Terrific photos of these robins exhibiting somewhat unusual behavior.

  12. That’s a treat. Love watching robins bathe. They really go at it throwing water everywhere!!!!

  13. Perhaps they prefer the more open area because they can see any predators coming? Excellent photos, made me feel cooler while I’m sitting here in the summer heat!

  14. janechese says:

    There is something to be said about the warmth of downy feathers. It is a ways off but this could be an interesting spring.

  15. Wow, it seems strange to see them in winter and up there where it is so cold and snowy. I haven’t seen any here yet but then we usually don’t for another month or so. Nice photos, Donna. Blessings, Natalie 🙂

  16. COOL Captures – Interesting Bird Life!!!

  17. lulu says:

    Robins seem to be a bird that can be content anywhere warm or cold. I see them in the snow in Maine and frolicking in my fountain in Houston during the same season.

  18. Flocks of robins visit my pond occasionally in winter. I see them bathing and drinking. Your shots are amazing as always. P. x

  19. bittster says:

    I am so glad to not be a robin. My feet are cold just reading this!
    I would not have thought they would be so interested in the water at this time of year, maybe the berries ran out? If so I’d rather just bite the bullet and fly south!
    I don’t understand how their feet work, sometimes you see a bird with a foot up in their feathers but after hours on the cold ground I don’t see how this would help anything. Brrrrrrr.

  20. igardendaily says:

    Very cool and I have now learned something new about robins! I didn’t know they were such water birds, esp in winter. They are here in early, early spring but I don’t think I’ve seen any in winter. The one seemed to be doing a “polar plunge!” 🙂

  21. We live downstate of you & I was just saying to my daughter the other day that we didn’t use to see robins in the winter at all when I was a child (in PA). Now they seemed to overwinter no problem here in Westchester County. Not sure where our local robins went during the polar vortex but other than that cold snap, they’ve been able to get unfrozen water and a limited access to bugs, especially during the super rainy January we’ve been having. Does seem a bit precarious, though! Thanks for sharing these pix!

  22. Awesome post! I love it. 🙂

  23. Susie says:

    Such pretty pictures of the robins on moss covered rocks! I believe it was early November when a huge flock of robins spent the day here in our neighborhood. All of the trees were filled with them, and everyone’s front yards were just alive with robins running around pecking for bugs or worms, and drinking from birdbaths. Toward dark they were all making a racket with their robin calls in the trees. Not a robin to be seen the next day. I think that they must have all been gathering together to fly off to where ever it is that the robins around here disappear to during winter. They always return sometime during the last two weeks of February. I can’t wait to see those first robins of spring!

  24. mariekeates says:

    Your robins are very different to ours. Ours are much smaller and usually solitary. I wonder if ours bathe in the icy river though?

  25. Annette says:

    Would your robins usually leave for warmer climes or at least warmer areas? Our birds love their daily bath and its’ such fun to watch them, sometimes 4,5 or 6 in the bird bath. How cold is the water in the river? Did you ever check? Lovely pics as usual, Donna 🙂

  26. Stephi says:

    You have to wonder if this is the beginning of a change to their migration patterns. Now that you’ve documented it this year, it will be interesting to see if they are back again next year. Either way, they seem surprisingly okay with the cold

  27. When I have melt I will find birds bathing but not in water that cold. Shows why water even in winter is vital to birds.

  28. I love the story and the photos!

    This past year I have started taking photos of birds more and more. That means trying to learn more about them. I have enjoyed a few trips to Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge near Rochester. I was lucky to go on a meet up hike with BIRDERS! Didn’t know robins would be in the area and a couple weeks ago I saw a great blue heron out on Grand Island I thought they would fly south. Would love to go out with you sometime.

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