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American Robin Migration Update: April 4, 2000

Today's Report Includes:

Today's Migration Maps and Data
Spring is spreading as robins flood into Canada and points north. As the map and data on the web show, robins are now singing and proclaiming territory at least as far as 50 degrees north.

FIRST Robins and WAVES of Robins

Dates Robins First HEARD Singing

Today's Data:

Meanwhile, people in Alaska have promised to announce the robins' arrival there, but so far they're...

Still Waiting for Robins!
No report of robins yet in Anchorage, nor from nearby Palmer, Alaska (61 N, -148 W). Mrs. Slaven, 5th Grade teacher at Sherrod Elementary in Palmer writes:

"We are all looking but I have yet to see a robin. We've had snow as recently as two days ago and it feels like spring will never get here. My birding friend told me this morning that the migration is early this year ... so we'll continue to watch and will e-mail you as soon as we see one!"

That means you still have time to send us your entry for the Early Bird Contest. That's:

Challenge Question #3:
"When do you think the first robin will be spotted in Anchorage, Alaska (61.22N,149.90W)?"

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

Nest Building 101

Like many of us everywhere, students at St. Peters School in Trenton, Ontario (44.1 N, -77.58 W) are hoping robins will build a nearby nest for them to watch. They wrote:

"This week the weather has been cold and quite damp. The robins don't seem to mind too much. They've been singing and are pairing up. We've seen several hopping around in the Journey North garden area looking for worms and other snacks. We hope they will nest somewhere near our school." (

Nests are on everyone's mind! Who decides where a nest is built? Of course, robin watchers don't get a vote. The final decision is pretty much up to the female, and some females have a hard time making up their minds. They may start two or more nests before settling on a single site. Experienced females might repair an old nest, or build a new one on the old foundation. Some bird experts say that as many as six nests have been build on top of another.

Watch Out for Flying Balls of Litter
The female is the main builder, but her mate helps by bringing her nest materials. When building their nest, Mr. and Mrs. Robin can often be seen carrying huge loads of nest material. Bird expert Roland Wauer wrote, "One female robin at Curecanti National Recreation Area, Colorado, was so loaded down that her package of twigs and grass doubled her head size; she looked like a flying ball of litter."

Building a nest normally takes 4 or 6 days, but can take up to 20 days in bad weather. If the nest is destroyed, the female may rebuild it in a single day. Later broods may be raised in the same remodeled nest, or the female may build a second nearby nest in 2 or 3 days. More than half of the second broods are raised in nests built at a new location. No wonder nest building keeps our robins so busy! That raises some questions:

Numerous Nests

Challenge Question #12:
"Banding studies show that some robins can live up to 12 years. How many nests might a 12-year-old robin build over its lifetime?"

Made in the Shade

Challenge Question #13:
"Give at least two reasons why a robin's first nest of the season is usually in an evergreen tree while the second and third are more often in a leafy tree."

(To respond to these questions, please follow the instructions below.)

If You Build It, Will They Come?
Robins don't need written instructions for building their summer homes. They follow the "nest-building blueprints" in their brains, and instinctively know how to build the perfect structure to hold the eggs they're about to lay. Have you ever noticed that robins' nests are always alike? But have you ever seen a robin teaching another how to build a nest?

Imagine you are a robin. What makes a suitable building site for your nest? What materials will you use? How do you build a nest when you don't have hands? Why do you, the parents, sleep on a nearby branch after the first week, except when it rains? Why do you move out and build a new nest after the babies leave? You'll get help with these answers along with step-by-step instructions for building a robin's nest with this terrific Journey North lesson:

Family Album
The American Robin almost always has only one mate at a time, but that doesn't mean the robins are mated for life. The mating relationship lasts through the nesting season. A female may not always breed with the same mate, but both males and females usually return to the same territory the following year, so they are likely to mate for a second or more times. There are cases of the female mate of the previous year arriving to find her place already taken. What happens then? She drives the new female away!

Using clues in today's report and the links we've included, and assuming no deaths, can you figure out the results of a robin's lifetime of mating and egg laying?

Challenge Question #14:
"How many offspring can a pair of adult robins potentially produce if they survive a 10-year lifetime?"

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

That's the Limit!
This range map shows the northern limits of robin nesting territory. As we've watched robins migrate many miles across North America over the past several weeks, can you help but wonder?

Challenge Question #15:
"Why don't robins go even further north? What factors influence the northern limits of their nesting range?"

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

Robin Watcher's Checklist
How can you tell when nest building begins? Watch for males and females flying with nest materials, and for females with mud on the breast feathers. Females may begin nest building within a day or two after arriving. For your own field checklist of other nifty robin events to watch for, see:

The Rest of the Story: More on Challenge Question #9
Joey Cristalli ( correctly answered the first part of Challenge Question #9 in our last report. This week he sent the answer to the second part of the question: "Look on a map and see if you can guess what town or city or your first robin of spring might have departed the night before." Joey wrote:

"I live in Rocky Hill, CT. So if I went directly South I would be in the ocean. But if I went a little west, I would be in Wilmington, South Carolina." Thanks for going the extra mile, Joey!

Name That Tune! Response to Challenge Question #11
Last time we gave you a tuneful quiz about robin songs and calls, asking: "Can you Name That Tune, and tell what each tune means?" The envelope, please:
  • #1: "Zeeup!" call, a contact note heard mainly during migration;
  • #2: "Peek" and "Tut" call heard in alarm situations;
  • #3: "Seeee" call used in response to the presence of an aerial predator;
  • #4: "Song" heard for territorial declaration; and
  • #5: "Whinny" call heard in mildly alarming situations.

Congratulations to Sarah King ( and Kristina Anderson ( who correctly named all 5 tunes! Mrs. Boyle's 4/5 Multiage Class in Ogdensburg, NY gets honorable mention for 3 out of 5 tunes correct, and for being first to enter our Name That Tune contest! (

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. In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question #3 (or #12 or #13 or #14 or #15).
3. In the body of each message, answer ONE of the questions above.

Please Report the First Robin you SEE, the first robin you HEAR singing, and other interesting robin observations. Your reports will be incorporated into these Robin Migration Updates.

The Next Robin Migration Update Will be Posted on April 18, 2000.

Copyright 2000 Journey North. All Rights Reserved. Please send all questions, comments, and suggestions to our feedback form

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