In the United States, few birds are as ubiquitous as the American Robin. This insect-eating, ground-hopping, morning-chirping songbird is often thought of as the harbinger of spring. However, it’s easy to mistake other birds for it because of their similar colors and shape. This article takes a look at seven birds in North America that are similar to robins.
7 Birds Similar to Robins
First, let’s learn a bit about the main character of this article, the American Robin.
Scientific name: Turdus migratorius
The American Robin is a type of thrush, a large songbird known for appearing in the beginning of spring. It eats primarily insects and it favors soft invertebrates like worms and grubs. They can be found across America in the lower 48 states.
Robins frequent suburban and rural areas alike. They have a taste for insects, so they rarely come to feeders. If you want to attract them to your backyard, consider installing a water source. A birdbath or a shallow stream will provide robins with safe places to bathe.
If you live in an area with significant foliage growth, you might be lucky enough to spot a mated pair nesting nearby. The female typically lays 3-4 bright blue eggs in a small nest tucked into the interior of a shrub or tree fork.
1. Red-breasted Nuthatch
Scientific name: Sitta canadensis
Both the American Robin and the Red-breasted Nuthatch share similar coloring. They have a reddish breast and a gray back. Even so, the similarities pretty much end there.
The Red-breasted Nuthatch is much smaller than a robin. Furthermore, its head is striped white and black, with a black beak, instead of the robin’s yellow. This bird prefers to move around in the trees and rarely spends time on the ground, unlike the Robin. In fact, they often cling to tree trunks and hand upside down as they navigate the forest understory!
Look for Red-breasted Nuthatches throughout the lower 48 and into Alaska. They are the only songbird that climbs head-first down trees.
2. Varied Thrush
Scientific name: Ixoreus naevius
The Varied Thrush is similar in size and shape to the American Robin. In fact, they are both members of the trush family. It has a similar color scheme too – dark head and upper body, and orange belly. From a distance, you might mistake it for a robin.
But look closer and you’ll see that the Varied Thrush has a black “necklace” on its chest, an orange stripe over the eye and orange wingbars.
Like American Robins, Varied Thrushes are ground feeders. But while robins prefer the softer invertebrates, Varied Thrushes like ones with chitinous exoskeletons, like grasshoppers and beetles.
The Varied Thrush quite a different range the the American Robin. The majority of the population lives in the coniferous forests of the Pacific Coast. They winter in California then move up to Canada and Alaska during the summer.
3. Eastern Towhee
Scientific name: Pipilo erythrophthalmus
The Eastern Towhee is about the same size as the American Robin, and the male shares similar coloring. While their rufous sides are similar to the robin’s belly, they don’t extend all the way across. So their white belly is a good clue to telling them apart, as well as their red eye, black beak and the fact that the black on their head extends down onto the chest.
Eastern Towhees are only found in the eastern United States, where they live in scrubby habitats between open woodlands and agricultural fields. They adapt well to suburban areas and take advantage of shrubbery to hide and nest in.
They forage in the underbrush for seeds, insects, and berries. Attract them to your yard with birdseed sprinkled along the edge of shrubbery. Like robins, they prefer to forage on the ground.
4. Orchard Oriole
Scientific name: Icteris spurius
The Orchard Oriole has a very similar color scheme to the American Robin, but its black head and back are much darker than the robin’s gray. Its beak is black, not the robin’s golden yellow.
Unlike American Robins, where the male and female look the same, only the male Orchard Oriole is orange and black. The female is yellow-green with dusky gray wings.
Spot an Orchard Oriole during the spring and summer months when they breed in the eastern and midwestern United States. They won’t hang out on the ground like robins do. Instead, you’ll hear them foraging for insects in the trees.
5. Hermit Thrush
Scientific name: Catharus guttatus
The Hermit Thrush is closely related to the American Robin – they’re both part of the thrush family. This group of birds’ primary traits are their larger size, rounded breast, and propensity to sing complex and lyrical songs.
They can be mistaken for a young robin which hasn’t yet completed its adult molt. Young robins don’t show as much orange in their breast yet, and their breast is covered in spots like the Hermit Thrush.
The Hermit Thrush forages for insects on the ground in forests among leaf litter, while robins prefer more open spaces.
Look for them in the northern United States and Canada. They favor the Rocky Mountains and the Northeast.
6. American Redstart
Scientific name: Setophaga ruticilla
American Redstarts have the dark back and head similar to American Robins, and from the side you’ll catch an orange streak. However, upon closer inspection you’ll see some clear differences.
While robins have more of ruddy, brick orange, the Redstart’s orange is quite bright. Their black head feathers extend down their chest and give way to a white belly. Orange is streaked on their side, wing and tail. These insect-eaters are very active when they flit around foliage looking for prey.
Spot an American Redstart in a diagonal stripe from southwestern Canada across the northern Midwest and into the eastern half of the United States. After the breeding season, they usually migrate south into Central and South America, passing over the Southwest and Mexico in the process.
Like the American Robin, the American Redstart isn’t a regular feeder visitor. However, they can be attracted to fruiting trees and berry bushes. They nest in maple and birch trees, so you may be more likely to see them if these tree species are present in your backyard.
7. Spotted Towhee
Scientific name: Pipilo maculatus
Like the Eastern Towhee, the Spotted Towhee is easy to mistake for an American Robin. Both birds are of a similar size and have similar coloring. However, only the male Spotted Towhee looks robin-ish. The female towhee is a dusky gray-brown.
They are insectivores like robins, but they prefer to eat ‘crunchier’ insects: grasshoppers, crickets, and beetles. In the winter, they’ll forage for acorns around the base of oak trees. You may be able to attract them to your yard by sprinkling birdseed on the ground around feeders.
Spotted Towhees live in the western United States. They’re year-round inhabitants of the Pacific Coast and the Rocky Mountains. One population spends spring and summer in Idaho and Montana.
Anna is a wildlife biologist who graduated from Texas A&M in 2020. She enjoys feeding, studying, and taking photos of wild birds and hummingbirds. She once worked as the hummingbird department manager at a Wild Birds Unlimited store.