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FINAL American Robin Migration Update: May 15, 2001

Today's Report Includes:

They've Reached the Finish Line!

(For data, click on caption.)

First Robins

of Robins

First Robins Heard Singing

Hooray! They've reached the finish line!
From the last of the Northern Observation Points in Fairbanks, Alaska, as Catharine Giacomazzi noted on May 10, 2001: "According to this morning's bird watcher's report, we currently have robins, tundra swans, sandhill cranes, several types of geese and ducks, junkos, and bald eagles in the last 24 hours." Terry Slaven writes from Palmer, AK, "This morning I heard a robin singing loudly right outside my door so they are definitely back. On Saturday morning, I heard the sandhill cranes flying overhead so while I was gone to Homer, they returned to Palmer. Now large mosquitoes are trying to get a filling meal from my skin and blood. Spring must be here."

The Robins in Our Backyards
Readers like you have been flooding Journey North with questions about their backyard robins. From Florida to Alaska, California to Newfoundland, robins are familiar backyard birds. People can't help but notice many of the things they do, and we want to help robins when they're in trouble. One observer told us about a speckled robin that returned again to her St. Paul, MN backyard. She knows it's a partial albino, but wondered if this is the same robin that has been appearing for the past three years. That is quite likely, because robins show a powerful loyalty to nesting territory year after year, and robins live fairly long lives. One banded individual survived 13 years and 11 months!

Another bird-caring family brought two sick baby robins to rehabber (that's short for rehabilitator) Laura Erickson. They told her they'd found the two parents and two babies dead beneath the tree. The two sick babies were partially paralyzed. Laura asked if they knew anyone in the neighborhood who'd had their lawn sprayed recently. The people told Laura that they themselves had sprayed their lawn the day before. Adult robins sometimes walk in freshly sprayed lawns, and their belly feathers get coated. When they preen, they can take the spray into their mouths and get sick. But how could pesticides hurt nestlings far above the spray? Think about the answer for a moment, then read Laura's answer:

"If the parents sit on the young nestlings to keep them warm, the pesticides on their belly feathers can get on the skin of the babies and get into the babies' bodies through their skin."

This is an example of how robins are hurt through human actions, and how learning more about what's good for robins is good for ALL living things. That's the subject of this season's final robin update as we celebrate the return of the robins!

New Links to Frequently Asked Questions
This week we've put together some of the most frequently asked questions about robins with answers from our Robin Expert, Laura Erickson. You'll see a sampling in this Update, together with links to more questions and answers full of facts and natural history information to keep you happily learning about robins all summer long! For example...

Q. Help! We found a robin's egg in our yard. Is there anything we can or should do with it?
A. The best thing to do with an egg that you find is to simply leave it be. I know you're concerned about the little baby growing in it, but there is a big chance that there may not even be a baby in there. This may be an egg that wasn't fertilized, or didn't develop properly. After the other babies are a day or two old, the parents get rid of unhatched eggs just in case one of the growing babies accidentally crushes it. Rotten eggs are NO fun!
There is also a chance that there really was a healthy baby inside the egg. What should you do then? See Laura's answer--and more Q/A about nest and egg problems:

How do I tell the first robin of spring from the last robin of winter? Laura tells you the behavioral clues to watch for--and why it's not an easy question! Find this and much more on this Journey North FAQ web page:

What are two reasons why robins fly into windows? What can help prevent the problem and spare the birds from injury or death? How can children at play and robins on the nest safely co-exist in your backyard? See:

One family watched a robin's nest for weeks and were startled at the results. They said, "Yesterday the beautiful blue eggs finally hatched, and when my children saw the babies, they were horrified at how ugly they are! They've seen how adorable and fluffy baby ducks and chickens are, but these robins don't look anything like that! How long will it take until they fluff out and look cute?"
Find the answer to this and other fascinating questions sent about baby robins:

How long do robins live? What's the connection between the European Blackbird--the bird of which four-and-twenty were baked in a nursery rhyme pie--and the American robin? What are the biggest dangers robins face? You'll find out here:

Go Lay an Egg: Discussion of Challenge Question #22
"If a robin lays her first egg on May 1 and everything happens in an exactly average way, what date do you think her babies will fledge from the nest?"

Seventh graders from Iselin Middle School did some counting and figuring. Clively and Brian said, "We think a robin who lays her first egg on May 1 will have its babies fledge the nest in about 26 to 30 days. This would be May 27 or May 31." Melissa, Mahak, Joe, Louis, Noel and Vincent said, "Her babies will probably fledge on May 29 since it takes them 26 to 30 days to hatch and fledge." Right ON!
Here's the step-by-step from our robin expert Laura: "She will lay her last egg, and start incubating, on May 4. She will incubate for an average of 13 days, so they should hatch on May 17. The babies will remain nestlings for an average of 12 days, so they should fledge on May 29."

One Robin, Two Nests? Discussion of Challenge Question #23

Photo courtesy of
Jim Gilbert.

Last time we said, "There are some records of robins building more than one nest, but very few. Most people, including people who study robins, have never seen this happen. Why do you think this is such a rare event?"

Laura Erickson tells us: "In order to build two nests, robins need twice as many materials, and must spend twice as much time working. Female robins are only capable of laying four or five eggs--their bodies simply stop egg production after that many are laid, until that nesting cycle is over. (Only if there is a disaster and she loses her eggs, or after the babies are raised, can she start over.) So if she lays half her eggs in one nest and the other half in another, she's wasted twice as much energy to hatch half as many babies! Robins who react in this way are not going to pass on their genes to too many babies!"

Year-End Evaluation: We'd Appreciate Your Thoughts!
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We hope you have enjoyed learning about the American Robin this spring.

This is the FINAL Robin Migration Update for 2001. Thanks for following robins on the journey north, and have a great summer. See you next year!

Copyright 2001 Journey North. All Rights Reserved. Please send all questions, comments, and suggestions to our feedback form

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