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American Robin Migration Update: March 9, 1999
American Robin Sightings
As of March 8, 1999

Today's Report Includes:

Calling All Robin Watchers!
(Discussion of Challenge Question # 3)
Question # 3 asked if last week's data and map show a northward movement of robins yet. Many Journey North participants have been reporting robins returning, but our data show over-wintering robins at least as far north as the most northern robins reported in February and March. So our data don't show a push north. We don't have any way of actually counting the robins at each latitude to see the movement--that's why we need YOU to report:
  • Your first SINGING robin,
  • Your first wave of at least three robins feeding on lawns
  • Your First Earthworms
  • As well as your FIRST robin sighting of the spring.

Next week we'll make maps of these observations and you can see if they reveal any patterns. This has been such an unusual year for robins! Please help document this by reporting your observations regularly .

Robins Face Snowstorm
A major snowstorm has been hitting a large area from the Rockies through the Mississippi Valley. Some robins are already migrating, and many overwintered right where the storm is fiercest.

Are these birds in big trouble? Nope! They don't drive, so they won't be slipping around roads the way cars can. During the worst of it, while snow is flying, robins will sit tight in evergreens, or feed on the ground beneath evergreens. Thick gray down feathers, like built-in long underwear, fluff up beneath the outer feathers that we see. And if snow covers the ground so worms aren't available, they'll search for berries, crab apples, and other fruit left over from last fall.

Some berries that taste bitter in the autumn sweeten up by March, just when robins need them!

Report the FIRST EARTHWORM that you see to Journey North!

Examples are:

  • bittersweet
  • dwarf hedge rose
  • sumacs
  • highbush cranberries

Are there robins where you are? What kinds of food are they eating right now?

For hints on how to help robins during bad weather, For hints on how to help robins during bad weather, see: Unpave the Way for Winter Robins.

Math Time!
While many Journey North participants wait indoors until the storm is over, let's try some robin math. One banded wild bird, "Robin A," lived to be 11 years, 8 months old. A bander found that "Robin B" weighed 84.2 grams.

Challenge Question # 6: "If Robin A was hatched in May, what month did it die in? What is the smallest number of times this robin was handled by humans? How do you know this?"

Challenge Question # 7: "What is Robin B's weight in ounces? How many robins of that size would it take to balance a 100-pound seventh grader?"

To respond to this week's Challenge Questions, follow the instructions below.

Discussion of Challenge Question # 4
We asked: According to banding records from our JN Banding Data site, where did these 4 robins go for the winter?

A Robin Banded in:

Was recovered at:

What state/prov?


35.3 N, -77.7 W

North Carolina


40.2 N, -122.2 W


Nova Scotia

32.2 N, -83.2 W


North Dakota

33.2 N, -93.2 W


Discussion of Challenge Question # 5

Report the first Robin you HEAR singing this spring to Journey North!

Report the first robin WAVE (a flock of three or more) that you see to Journey North!

We asked why Drew Clausen's robin was singing so very quietly. This is the kind of question that doesn't necessarily have a single right answer. There's no way we can go up and ask the robin to find out for sure! Some students thought the robin might be sick. Although this is possible, it's not likely, because birds virtually never sing if they're sick. It's possible also that there was something stuck in its throat.

The most likely explanation is that there was a predator nearby. This writer paid close attention to a pair of robins one summer when a Merlin (a falcon that specializes in eating songbirds) nested in the yard next door to the robins nest. Whenever a Merlin was about, the robin sang its song at very low volume--as if someone had turned down its loudness dial. A Chipping Sparrow in the same yard also sang exceptionally softly. Both these birds were compelled to sing by their territorial and nesting instincts, but were in danger if they drew the Merlin's attention to themselves We asked Drew about this, and he confirmed that a Cooper's Hawk had been seen in his neighborhood that day.

How to Respond to Today's Challenge Question

Answer only one Challenge Question in each e-mail.
1. Address an e-mail message to:
2.In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question #6 OR Challenge Question #7.
3. In the body of your message, answer the question.

The next Robin Migration Update will be posted Tuesday, March 16, 1999.

Copyright 1999 Journey North. All Rights Reserved. Please send all questions, comments, and suggestions to our feedback form

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