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American Robin Migration Update: February 2, 1999

Today's Report Includes:

Robins in the News!
This year robins are overwintering in unusual numbers in many places in Canada and the US. There have even been stories about them in newspapers such as the Toronto Globe and Mail, the LaCrosse (Wisconsin) Tribune, the (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) Gazette, and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Journey North participants were among the many people who found a surprising number of robins in the dead of winter.

One of the saddest stories about the wintering robins was reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, which noted that large numbers were found frozen on the ground in the vicinity of fruit trees. People thought at first that the robins had become fatally drunk on fermented berries, but their bodies were examined and researchers found that they had died from nitrite poisoning. People are still trying to discover the source of the nitrites.

Getting a Taste of Robin Food

Cedar Waxwing eating mountain ash berries

Robins often join Cedar Waxwingflocks in winter. (Photo by Tom Mangelson in Landscaping for Wildlife)

Fortunately, most of the robins seem to be doing very well. On December 28, Barbara Page's McKeesport Area Homeschoolers?s 6th grade was surprised ?to see a flock of very quiet robins roosting in a Tulip tree while hiking in the Forbes State Forest,? in PA (39.88, -79.48). And they found out exactly what robin food tastes like! ?The ground at that time was unfrozen with no snow cover. There were many wild rose bushes in the area, covered with hips. I tasted some and they were delicious.?

People observed robins eating hackberries, mountain ash berries, and other fruits. For more information about wintering robins and how you might help them, check out Journey North's

Never Too Late to Migrate
Robins that stayed north through December and early January were still able to migrate south when conditions became too harsh. Texas birders reported on the national BirdChat that they were seeing robins still moving south in January. Rosemary Smith of Guthrie, Oklahoma, saw an unusual and exciting sight on January 11, 1999: ?Beginning at daybreak this morning thousands and thousands of robins are flying southwest over our property. We have never observed such a large migration of robins.?

People all over have been speculating why this year was so different. Suzanne Jones in Dimondale, MI (42.64, -84.65) wrote to us on January 16, 1999, ?We are under 2 plus feet of snow. We were watching two pair of bluebirds in the rose bushes and saw 8 robins in the driveway. We have never had robins in this area this time of year. Why did they not migrate?"

That set us to wondering, too. What factors might have been important?

Challenge Question #1. What factors contributed to robins staying so far north this winter? What do you think was the most important factor?

How to Respond to Today's Challenge Question
1. Address an e-mail message to:
2. In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question #1
3. In the body of your message, answer the question

The Next Robin Migration Update Will be Posted on February 16, 1999

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