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American Robin Migration Update: March 16, 2004

Today's Report Includes:

Latest Migration News: Creeping Northward

(To view data reported, click on caption below each map.)

First Robins

of Robins

First Robins Heard Singing

This week’s maps show more sightings in more places, but still no big surge. Meret of Ormond Beach, FL tells us that when the robins leave Florida, really ARE on their way north and the migration is underway. On March 10 Meret told Journey North: “The robins no longer grace our skies daily in North Central Florida.” A day later she wrote back to say the robins made a liar of her. “Nine showed up in the berry tree that they stripped weeks ago. It was a quick visit and a few typical winter call and off they went...North!!! Of course there will be the stragglers but the large numbers are not present.” What evidence of Meret’s prediction can you see on this week’s migration maps? Reminder: the map shows distribution, not abundance. Keep watching and reporting!
  • As of March 9, the robins are being sighted in northwest Iowa. “Alex and Dillon each saw a robin in their backyards. On March 10, Jessie and Kari each saw a robin. Kari saw the robin in a tree near the elementary school.”
  • East Moline, Illinois, March 11: “The robins have made their visit outside our Kindergarten window! It is a cloudy day and very windy with snow flurries. The temperature is 26 degrees. Winds are from the north-northwest at 20 miles per hour with gusts to 32 miles per hour. The barometric pressure is 30.05 and rising. We have no snow cover. There is a hint of green to our grassy playground that also has lots of mud!”
  • Hazlet, New Jersey, March 10: “I saw my first robin yesterday at school. He must have been part of the advance party because today the athletic field was filled with at least 25 robins bouncing along looking for worms. They were sharing the field with overwintering Canadian geese. It was fun watching the two groups trying to stay out of each other's way.”
  • And where’s the northern-most song reported to date? Robins started singing March 11 near Missoula, Montana high school (near the Clark Fork River).

Stop, Look, Listen: Robin Video Clips and Journaling Question

Video: Robin's Alarm Call
Watch It Now


You’ve showed us how good you are at identifying the robin calls. For all of you still waiting to hear the alarm call or the true song, take a look at Julie’s video clips. Our robin expert, Laura Erickson, gives you a “guided tour” of what you’ll hear and see in each:

Robin Giving Alarm Call
The robin in this video is alarmed about something. We can tell that it isn’t the photographer scaring him, because several times when he’s looking around, we can’t see his eye. That means that he wasn’t looking at the camera. When we recognize the robin alarm call, we know that something dangerous is nearby.

Journaling Question:
Do you think other robins, and other birds, recognize the alarm call? How can recognizing the robin alarm call help other birds?

We can tell he’s alarmed not only by the calls he’s making, but also by his posture. Robins flick their wings and tails when alarmed, and sometimes they crouch. Do you see these actions? All these actions are similar to what the robin does when he flies off. Alarm displays help robins. When a robin is alarmed, whatever has made him nervous may be dangerous enough that he’ll have to leave. Alarm displays get him ready to take off in a hurry!

Video:Singing Territorial Song
Watch It Now


Robin Singing Territorial Song
This robin is singing his territorial song. Watch how his throat puffs out as he sings; air passing through his syrinx (a bird’s “song box,” which is at the lower end of the trachea) produces the sound.

During the time he’s singing, you can tell the robin is still paying attention to everything happening around him. How many times does he respond to a sight or sound by turning his head?

Teacher Tip: Observations Lead to Questions/Cultivating Keen Observers
Scientific investigations typically begin with observations of something intriguing or baffling. In turn, observations inspire questions. As you observe the video clips, create a two-column “What I Observe/What I Wonder” chart in your science journal. Work through the following categories of questions to inspire deeper levels of observation:

Video clips provide an opportunity for students to make authentic scientific observations. Here are some suggestions for viewing video clips as a scientist:

Spotting a Good Territory: Challenge Question #5
Robins migrate by day. As they fly over a neighborhood, they look and listen for signals that they are over a good territory. One thing they notice is other robins singing--like you saw in the video clips above. If they hear a robin song from above, they know that there's a good territory down below, but it's already taken. But if there is only one robin singing, there might still be some nice spots available. That makes us wonder:

Challenge Question #5:
List factors that make for (1) a GOOD robin territory and (2) a POOR robin territory.

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

If you pay attention to where each robin sings and feeds and perches, you can even draw maps of your neighborhood robin territories. How? For directions, and for more information to help with Challenge Question #5, see:

News From the Northern Observation Posts

On March 3, Ute Kleitsch of Ajax, Ontario, Canada was thrilled to see her first robin. She said, “I can just see the look in his body language: Why is it snowing again?” Which birds——eagles or robins—— do students at Innoko River School (Shageluk, Alaska) expect to see first? Which FIVE NOPs have reported seeing their first robins? Find out the latest news. Print out a map of the Northern Observation Posts and handy record sheets for listing YOUR predictions and the actual dates of “first seen” and “first song.” All links are here:

Or go directly to your prediction charts here:

Tracking Temps and Robins: This Week’s Isotherm Map Warms Up!
This week’s isotherm map shows where temps have been warming up! Robin migration is tightly connected to weather, unlike hummingbird or oriole migration. Last time we invited you to test the theory that robins follow the 36- or 37-degree isotherm during migration. (The isotherm is an imaginary line that connects places having the same average temps.) Our hands-on lesson shows you how to calculate the isotherm by averaging the daily temps over a period of time. Learn to calculate the isotherm for YOUR region and you can test whether robins travel with the isotherm!

Average Temperature in United States Week ending February 28, 2004 (left) compared with Week ending March 13, 2004 (right).

Photo Courtesy of
NOAA Climate Prediction Center.
(No map available of entire continent.)
  • What color is the part of the maps showing the average 37-degree isotherm?
  • Has the 37-degree isotherm moved in the past 2 weeks?
  • Have robin movements shown a pattern similar to the change in the 37-degree isotherm? (See the migration maps at the top of the report.)
  • Do the changes in where the 37-degree isotherm is correspond to where robins have been singing?

Early Bird Contest: Challenge Question #4 Reminder and Link to Lesson
Now that you’re thinking about the NOPs, thanks to all of you who have already sent your entries for the Early Bird Contest by predicting: "When do you think the first robin will be spotted in Anchorage, Alaska (61.22 N, 149.90 W)? Do you think it will arrive with the 36-degree isotherm?"

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

There’s still time to enter! How can the Plant Hardiness Zone Map help you predict when robins will reach the northern limits of their range? Find out here:

Ask the Expert Now Open
Don't miss the deadline to send your toughest robin questions for Laura Erickson. She's eager to hear from you! Be sure to send them by the deadline of March 26, 2004 (noon central time).

Name That Tune! Answer to Challenge Question #3
Last time you played Name That Tune to see if you could identify which of 5 robin vocalizations would be hear when robins are back on their breeding territory. We celebrated to see all the correct answers that flooded in! Yes, it was #4 vocalization, the true song. Congratulations to these students for winning Name That Tune!
Mark, Rima, Sinnamon, Om, Jennifer Iselin Middle School/grade 7; Timmy, Shane, Lindsay, Autumn, Jordan and Grant from Grade Two at Ferrisburgh (Vermont) Central School; Josh; and Amber.

Earthworms Worming to the Surface? Please Report!
If earthworms have wriggled to the surface where you live, please let us know! Look for a new map and data on March 26!

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. IMPORTANT: In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question #4 (OR #5).
3. In the body of the message, answer ONE of the questions above.


The Next Robin Migration Update Will Be Posted on March 23, 2004 (data only).

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