American Robin
James C. Leupold - USFWS

Home Page
Challenge Questions

Today's News
Today's News

Spring's Journey North
Spring's Journey North

Report Your Sightings
Report Your Sightings

Teacher's Manual
Teacher's Manual

Search Journey North
Search Journey North
return to:
JNorth Home Page


American Robin

FINAL Robin Migration Update: May 19, 1998

Today's Report Includes:

FINAL Robin Migration Map
Thanks to everyone for helping to build this picture of the robin's spring migration. We hope you'll join us again next spring for the robin's last migration of the 20th century.

American Robin
Range Map

Spring, 1998
Robin Migration

Robin Research: Suggestions for Summertime Robin Watching
The first robin of spring is always a wonderful thing to see, especially for Journey North participants, but the robins of summer are equally fascinating. Here are some summer projects to make robin-watching more interesting and exciting.

Robin Song Study
Male robins may be the only ones that actually sing, but both males and females make a wide variety of other vocalizations. Males usually sing the most while females are incubating--does your bird follow this rule?

Keep a five-minute count of robin songs early in the morning, late morning, at noon, mid-afternoon, early evening, and nighttime on three different days.

  • Do robins sing more at a particular time of day?
  • Do the songs sound different at different times of day?
  • Does their song change according to the stage of the nesting cycle?

Robins can sing for long stretches without stopping. We need to pause to take a breath now and then when we are singing or speaking. This is because our sound is only produced as we breathe out--but birds can make sounds while breathing both in and out.

  • Time some robin songs at different times of day.
  • When are the songs the longest? When shortest?
  • What other sounds do robins make?
  • If they notice you studying their nest, do they make a scolding sound or warning cry?

When you hear a robin making a sound, try to discover what that call means. Robins have one alarm call when they notice hawks and another for ground predators. They make a different sound when they discover a cat near their nest than when they discover a nearby human. If possible, tape record your robins. How many different calls can you hear? Some ornithologists have described various robin calls as "teek," "tuk-tuk," "teacheach," and "eee." How would you describe the calls you hear?

Robin Nest Study

Jim Gilbert

In most North American locations, robins nest two times each year, and in some places three times! Can you find some robin nests in your neighborhood? How many are in trees, and how many are on houses or other buildings? Many bird books state that robins build their first nest in a conifer, like a pine or spruce, and their second and third nests in leafy trees. They say only the female builds the nest and incubates the eggs, but both parents search for nesting materials and feed the nestlings and fledglings. Do the robins in your neighborhood follow these "rules"? Try to keep track of the parents and
their young for as long as you can.

For each nest, answer as many of the following questions as you can:

  • How many eggs are laid?
  • How many days does it take for them to hatch?
  • How many days does it take for the nestlings to
  • leave the nest?
  • How many babies survive to fledge?
  • Did more babies survive in nests built on buildings or in trees?
  • If the babies didn't all survive, could you figure out for certain what happened to them?
  • Do young robins come back into the nest after they leave it for the first time? If so, when do they stop coming to the nest?

Jim Gilbert

In many areas, crows take robin eggs and nestlings to eat themselves or to feed to their young. In some areas, this presents a serious problem for baby robins. In most cities, crows stay away from buildings, so the robins that nest on houses have more nesting success than robins nesting in trees.

To encourage robins to nest on your house and to make it easier to observe nesting behavior, try building your own robin nest box using these plans. If you build it in June, robins may well use it for their second nesting attempt this year. But even if they don't, they may notice the nest box this year, making it more likely they'll use it on their first try next year.

Courtesty of Carrol Henderson
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Robin Territory Study

Jim Gilbert

One summer a woman in Minnesota noticed that there was a pair of robins nesting in her backyard, one next door on one side, one next door on the other side, and one pair in the yard behind her yard. After a few territorial squabbles, they pretty much kept to their own yards for feeding, but since this woman had the only birdbath on the block, two of the neighboring pairs of robins started sneaking in to take drinks and baths.

Both the male and female robins who "owned" that territory spent a lot of time chasing them away at first, but when the female started incubating her eggs, she stopped chasing
off the other females. The male kept chasing off the other males until the babies hatched--then he had to spend so much time searching for food for them that he stopped chasing off the others unless they started exploring away from the bird bath. As long as they flew along the shortest possible line from their territory into the birdbath, he left them alone, but if they veered off that path for just a few seconds he'd charge them! By studying where each robin spent the majority of its time, where it could be with the others ignoring it, and where it was when disputes took place for several weeks, the woman had a clear picture of where each robin's territory was, and she could have drawn a simple map with each "territory" outlined.

Draw a map of a small part of your neighborhood. Mark in the trees, bushes, houses, fences, and other things that robins might notice, and mark any robin nests you find. Use this map to study the robins in your neighborhood for a week or two. See if you can start recognizing different individuals, and where they each spend their time. Give each bird a letter, number, or symbol. Mark a bird's symbol in the right spot on your map every time you see it. Do they spend more time in some areas than others? Can you draw territorial
boundaries based on where they spend their time?

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"?

Robin Behavior Study
Some birds can only hop on two legs; others can run or walk. During a 10 minute observation period, how often do you see robins hopping? Do you ever see them walking?

Before, during, or after robins make some calls, they move their bodies in a particular way. These are called visual displays. See if you can observe any visual displays. Draw the robin's shape while doing these.

Ornithologists still debate about how exactly robins locate earthworms. Do they see them in their underground tunnels through the airholes? Do they feel vibrations of worm movements with their feet? Are they listening for them?
Watch robins feeding, and the moment one flies away, study the ground where it was. Can you see any earthworm tunnels? How do you think they find their food?

Robins and Pesticides Study
Are any of the yards in your neighborhood treated with lawn chemicals? If you can, get permission from your neighbors to study the robins in each yard. Find as many robin nests as you can. Compare how many are in treated and untreated yards.

  • Is there a difference in the number of eggs hatched in treated versus untreated yards? In the number of babies that successfully fledge?
  • Watch as robins forage on treated and untreated lawns. If the habitat is identical in other ways, do you see a difference in where they prefer to feed? If possible (and only with permission!) dig up the top few inches of soil in each yard. Inspect the soil carefully for worms, grubs & insects. Does there seem to be a difference? Design a method to quantify your observations.

Journey North
Year End Evaluation
Please share your thoughts

This is the FINAL Robin Migration Update. See You Next Year!

Copyright 1998 Journey North. All Rights Reserved.