Robin Territory Study Reading and Writing Connections

Background
Somewhere out there, a robin "calls" your backyard its home territory. A robin's territory — the place where mating and nesting occurs — is usually less than half an acre. Territories often overlap, perhaps because of the feeding grounds that neighboring robins share. If you think robins are everywhere, you're probably right! Read on.

Robin Squabble Story
One summer a Minnesota woman had a pair of robins nesting in her backyard. A pair of robins also nested next door on one side of the yard and yet another nested on the other side of the yard. A fourth pair of robins nested in the yard behind hers. After a few territorial squabbles, the robins pretty much kept to their own yards for feeding.
But this woman had the only birdbath on the block, so two of the neighboring pairs of robins started sneaking into her yard for drinks and baths. At first, the male and female robins who "owned" that territory spent a lot of time chasing the intruders away.

But when the female started incubating her eggs, she stopped chasing off the other females. The male chased off the other males until the babies hatched. Then he had to spend so much time searching for food for his nestlings that he stopped chasing off the other robins — unless they started exploring beyond the bird bath. As long as the neighbors flew directly to the birdbath along the shortest possible line from their territory, he left them alone. But if they veered off that path for just a few seconds, he charged the birds!

For several weeks, the woman observed where each robin spent the majority of its time. She noted where each robin could range and be ignored by the others, and where each was when disputes took place. This information gave her a clear picture of each robin's territory. She could have drawn a simple map with each territory outlined.

Activity: Map A Robin's Territory
Observe your own robins and see if you can map their territories! Here's how:
• Begin by drawing a map of a small part of your neighborhood. Mark in the trees, bushes, houses, fences, and other things that robins might notice. Mark any robin nests you find.
• Use this map to study the robins in your neighborhood for a week or two. Give each robin a letter, number, or symbol. See if you can start to recognize different individuals and notice where each spends its time.
• Mark a bird's letter, number or symbol in the right spot on your map every time you see that bird. Do the robins spend more time in some areas than others? Can you draw territorial boundaries on your map based on where the various robins spend their time?

Try This! Activity/Journaling Question
• Set out a bird bath or a bowl of water or a lawn sprinkler. How long does it take for robins to notice it? Does the water attract robins from other territories? How do the birds work out their "water rights?"

National Science Education Standards

• Organisms have basic needs. For example, animals need air, water and food
• An organism's behavior patterns are related to the nature of that organism's environment.
• Behavior is one kind of response an organism can make to an internal or environmental stimulus.

National Geography Standards

• How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information.