(Image by Will Parson)

An American robin pulls a worm from the grass at Jeff Robertson Park in Norfolk, Virginia. Although often considered harbingers of spring, most robins actually stay in their breeding range year-long. But because they spend the winter roosting in trees instead of hopping across the lawn, you’re less likely to see them. Robins hunt for one of their favorite foods, earthworms, by cocking their head to the side so they can see—contrary to popular belief, they don’t actually hear the worms. These birds can often be seen after a rainstorm, feasting on the worms that rise to the surface.

Due to their susceptibility to pesticide poisoning, robins can be an indicator of pollution in the environment. Chemicals like DDT, which was banned in the U.S. in 1972, can persist in the soil for decades, where earthworms can absorb them and pass them to feeding robins. In one Michigan town, sick and dying robins were one of many indicators that DDT was still contaminating the environment. By studying the health of robins and other wildlife, experts can continue to monitor how ecosystems recover from DDT and other harmful chemicals.

Learn about how chemical contaminants affect the health of the Bay and its rivers and streams.

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