American Robin American Robin
Today's News Report Your Sightings How to Use Journey North Search Journey North

American Robin Migration Update: March 21, 2000

Today's Report Includes:

Today's Migration Maps and Data

FIRST Robins and WAVES of Robins

Dates Robins First HEARD Singing

The forward front of the migration has clearly moved north of the Canadian border. (See latest migration maps and data on the web.) Observers to the south: Please LISTEN for the arrival of your backyard robin--and let us know what you hear!

Links to Data:

On the Lookout for Robins

During the past week, we scoured the north country looking for volunteers willing to serve as Northern Observation Posts and watch for robins to arrive. This map (see WWW) shows where the 16 posts are stationed across the north.

When we asked the volunteers last week for updates they replied:

  • "Ha! No robins yet! The snow (most of it) will be gone in six or eight weeks. We'll start looking in earnest then! But we are poised to report on the first sighting or sound of a robin!" Mike Sterling of Anchorage, Alaska (
  • "Don't hold your breath, we are still seeing our breath up here!" Bill Vedders of Kenai, Alaska (
  • "Our ground is still snow covered and will remain frozen until the beginning of May...'No worms for supper tonight dear'." Susan Salokannel of Fort St James, British Columbia (
  • "We're certainly willing to track robins, but you probably won't hear from us until late April or May. It was 0ºF this morning, but sunny!" Sara Hepner of Sterling, Alaska (
  • "We would be delighted to be a Northern Observation Post. None of the class has seen any yet. But we are on the lookout." Pam Randles of Haines High School (

Now that you've read the clues above and looked at today's migration map, we challenge you to predict:

Challenge Question #10:
"When will the first robins return to the remaining Northern Observation Posts?"

(To respond to this question, please follow the instructions below.)

Have You Entered? Early Bird Contest Reminder
The students at Sand Lake Elementary in Anchorage are still watching and waiting for the first robinóso they can tell you who won the Early Bird Contest. If you haven't already, please send your prediction for:

Challenge Question #3:
"When do you think the first robin will be spotted in Anchorage, Alaska (61.22 N, -149.90 W)?"

(To respond to this question, please follow the instructions below.)

Name That Tune!
If your robins aren't yet back and singing like crazy, it won't be long. You can find out what's going on in the robins' world if you know what they are saying and singing. Listen up! These sound recordings will help you recognize five kinds of vocalizations made by robins.

All Recordings Courtesy of Lang Elliott Nature Sound Studio


Wait for download;
96 K file.

"Peek" and "Tut" calls
Wait for download;
162 K file.


Wait for download;
138 K file.

"Seeee" call

Wait for download;
184 K file.

"Zeeup!" call
Wait for download;
158 K file.

Each sound or call has its own meaning, according to Lang Elliott, an authority on bird vocalizations:

  • The robin's "song" is a territorial declaration.
  • The "peek" and "tut" calls are heard in alarm situations.
  • The "whinny" is heard in mildly alarming situations.
  • The high-pitched "Seeeee" call is given in response to the presence of an aerial predator.
  • The "Zeeeup" call is a contact note heard mainly during migration.

Now you're ready to play Name That Tune! Here are the same five vocalizations again, in scrambled order. Write down the numbers, then listen to the recording. What is the name of each call, and what does each call mean? That's

Challenge Question #11:
"Can you . . .Name That Tune, and tell what each tune means?"






(To respond to this question, please follow the instructions below.)

Try This!
When you hear a robin calling, try to discover what that call means. For a handy field observation log sheet and more directions, see:

Buddy's Back!

Last week "Waiting for Buddy" appeared in our report. Are you wondering about the sequel? Julie Brophy gladly obliged:

"For the third year in a row, Buddy has returned to his back yard! I say HIS back yard because watching him defend this small area leaves no doubt that he thinks he has sole property rights. He seems to be constantly on duty, ready to challenge any other male robin in the yard.

"We noticed he was back on Saturday March 11, which is earlier than last year's March 30 arrival date. We first observed him standing outside our front door on the driveway. We knew it was Buddy not only because of his familiar markings, but also because when we opened the door, he did not fly away like most other birds. Instead, he watched us from a close but safe distance. And sure enough, when we called his name, he came running towards us, looking to see if we had served up any food.

Like Clockwork
"Just like clockwork each morning and evening, Buddy shows up on the porch outside the kitchen and looks inside the window to see if we are there. And if we're not in the kitchen, he'll fly to the front door to see if we're there. He never gets too close to us, which is good because we want him to remain cautious in his surroundings. In fact, when we put out mealworms for him, he flies up to a favorite branch, and then flies back down to enjoy the worms after we have moved away.

Keeping a Watchful Eye
"His behavior this time of year appears to be slightly different than later in the season. Right now, he's very restless when he comes to eat. He doesn't take any extra time to linger, and instead spends just enough time to eat the mealworms and then off he goes. Sometimes he'll even interrupt his meal to chase off another male robin.

"Very often, he looks to the sky. This time of year hawks are frequent visitors as they migrate through. Perhaps he's keeping a watchful eye for hawks. What do you think it would feel like to have to look around yourself all day for fear a hawk might swoop down on you at any moment?

Spring Fling
"The next thing Buddy is watching for (and we too) is the arrival of the first female robins in the area. We'll keep watching for the first females and report them to Journey North. We'll also watch to see how long it takes for Buddy to find a mate, or the mate to find him. Last season, he even brought his mate nearby to share in the mealworms, and we hope he will be a sharing gentleman again this year too."

Cash, Contests, Birds and Cats
Do you love prizes and contests? Do you care about protecting cats and birds? Would you like to win $250 for you AND your school or nature center, on top of doing a lot of good for birds and pets? If you're between 6 and 12 years old, this contest is for you! Enter the NATIONAL KEEP YOUR CAT INDOORS DAY 2000 POSTER COMPETITION to help publicize National Keep Your Cat Indoors Day on May 13, 2000. Winners will be announced by May 12 on American Bird Conservancyís Web site ( Entries are due May 1. Your artwork should show a happy, safe, indoor cat. Get more details at:

Here's another helpful site to help you decide what to say on your poster:

Fly By Night
Discussion of Challenge Questions #8 and #9

Last time we asked, "Why do you think there is a seasonal difference in the timing of robins' migration flights?"

Seventh graders John Smyth and Eric Bramwell from Iselin Middle School in NJ offered some good thinking for CQ #8: "The reason robins migrate during the day, in fall, is because it is warmer during the day than it is at night. Robins don't like the cold. In the spring, they're able to migrate during the night because it is warm both in the day and night. (

Could the timing might also have something to do with robins' different food choices in spring and fall? When cold weather holds them back from flying in spring, robins spend their days searching for food to fatten up for the migration. The berries and fruits still sticking to trees after the long winter are the least tasty leftovers, so they will only eat them if they really can't find anything better. Fortunately, right when they need it most, the ground starts thawing. Suddenly big fat earthworms are ripe for the picking. But robins have to SEE to find the worms, which means feeding in daytime and flying at night.

Discussion of Challenge Question #9
We also asked this question: "Robins migrate at a speed of about 50 kilometers per hour. On the first day of spring, when night is exactly as long as day everywhere on the planet, how far might a robin go on its night flight? Look on a map and see if you can guess what town or city or your first robin of spring might have departed the night before."

Both Ben Hatt ( and Joey Cristalli ( correctly answered the first part of Challenge Question #9. As Joey reasoned:"It would probably be able to fly 600 kilometers. I arrived at this answer because if a robin can travel 50 kilometers an hour, and it's 12 hours of night on the first day of spring, then 12 x 50= 600 kilometers." Good going! Now for the rest of the question. If the robin that landed on the vernal equinox flew 600 km overnight, where might it have come from? Fill in the blanks for your location. "If the robin flew straight north, it may have traveled all the way from _______(name of town), which is ______km directly to the south." It's still Challenge Question #9. Any takers?

How to Respond to Today's Challenge Questions

IMPORTANT: Answer only ONE question in each e-mail message.

1. Address an e-mail message to:
2. In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question #10 (or #11).
3. In the body of each message, answer ONE of the questions above.

Please Report the First Robin you SEE, the first robin you HEAR singing, and other interesting robin observations. Your reports will be incorporated into these Robin Migration Updates.

The Next Robin Migration Update Will be Posted on April 4, 2000.

Copyright 2000 Journey North. All Rights Reserved. Please send all questions, comments, and suggestions to our feedback form

Today's News Today's News Report Your Sightings How to Use Journey North Search Journey North