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Robin Migration Update:

Today's Report Includes:

Ready, Set, GO! Latest Migration News
(To view data reported, click on caption below each map.)

First Robins

of Robins

First Robins Heard Singing

This has been a peculiar winter for sure! Robins have already been moving into several spots in Canadian provinces and the northern tier of states, and have even been heard singing in some northern places! For the most part, they're still in winter mode as far as their feeding and behavior go, which is lucky because this past week has seen snowstorms and cold temperatures in many areas.

In Richmond, VA, on February 22, an observer "saw about 100 robins frantically feeding in our yard. Seemed desperate for worms and bugs but settled on berries." Normally robins can get worms during much of the winter at that latitude, but this year there has been a very bad drought there. What effect do you think this drought has on worms?

Challenge Question #2:
"What effect might a drought have on how well robins can get worms?"

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

Ready, Set, WAIT! Stalled by the Weather
Are robins getting any closer to our Northern Observation Posts (NOPs)? So far they haven't been reported quite that far north. Do you think robins might have been stalled by the strong arctic air mass that moved across the continent last week? That system brought record low temps all the way to the Gulf of Mexico When warm air moves in again, robins will probably be moving right along with it! Watch for the Early Bird Contest, coming in our next Update, to make your predictions about robins reaching Anchorage.

Toxic Lunches
Photo courtesy Anne Cook

In mid-February, an observer in Haverford, PA, reported, "There have been around 250 robins here for most of February. The only food left that's obvious is a row of very brown crabapples (the big ones). They must be fermenting in the hot weather (till today) and many of the robins are acting drunk. Early in the month, there was a heavy snow flurry. They tried to take shelter under trees with no foliage, ignoring the large white pine which is the only tree of any consequence in my quadrangle."

Sugars in berries and other fruits DO ferment, changed by microorganisms into organic compounds that are poisonous. Many of these, like alcohol, affect a bird's nervous and muscular systems, making them act "tipsy" or intoxicated.

Robins who get sick from fermented berries and apples sometimes crash into buildings or cars, or get killed by cats or natural predators. Fortunately, most of them eventually get better. Interestingly, the fermented fruits that cause them problems is also what keeps them alive--in late winter, they have to eat what little food is available until worms start squirming again. If you have a fruit tree or berry bushes that seem to be intoxicating robins, you might try offering them alternatives at a special robin feeder. To learn how to make one, see Unpave the Way for Robins. You might save one or two of their lives!

Try This! Word Study
Many of our English words have meaningful word parts from other languages, such as Greek and Latin. If you know the meaning of a word part, you have a good chance at figuring out the meaning of the entire word. What is the main part of the word "intoxicated"? Look it up in the dictionary to see its meaning and origin. Why do you think this section of the Update is called "Toxic Lunch"?

Gee But It's Great to Be Back Home...
Although many of the robins seen so far have been in winter feeding flocks, eating fruits and gathering together in trees, some robins have been switching to their spring diet of worms. Some have even started singing! On February 27 in Madera, CA, an observer reported that "The end of February has had 2 weeks of unseasonably warm weather after the first two weeks of record frosty nights. Highs have been near 70F this week. At sunset I finally heard the song I'd been waiting for... I thought I'd heard it once or twice in the past week but had not been able to pinpoint the actual birds singing. Welcome spring!" See the many reports of robins singing on the map above!

Singing robins are always males. A few of them sing while still migrating, but most wait until they have arrived where they want to nest. When a male robin hears another robin singing, it makes his heart beat faster and his blood pressure rise, and the closer he is to the singing, the harder his heart works. Male robins are most comfortable when they are spaced. Being spaced apart this way is how singing helps them to defend their territories.

A robin probably calls your backyard its home territory. A robin's territory, the place where mating and nesting occur, is usually less than half an acre. Territories often overlap, perhaps because of the feeding grounds that neighboring robins share. As robins near you start singing, try mapping their territories using our

What causes robins to overwinter in different places is a mystery. Ornithologists and other scientists study many aspects of this, and collect temperature data from all over the earth. Over time they hope to solve this mystery! Think about the robin that tried nesting in Chicago in January, the many places where robins overwintered, and how early some robins have been heard singing this year. Do you think these early movements and spring-like behaviors in January and February support the existence of global warming? Do you think global warming is a problem? What do you think people in Canada and the United States should or shouldn't be doing with regard to global warming? Discuss your ideas and let us know what you think by answering this week's

Challenge Question #3:
"Does this year's robin data support the idea of global warming? Do you think global warming is a problem? What should we be doing about it?"

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

Literature Link: Another Mystery
One of Janet Kistler's third graders in Cub Run, KY, had an unforgettable experience in mid-February. He held an injured robin before it died. If a child came to your door with a dying robin and asked what was wrong with it, what would you do?

When this happened to Jean Craighead George, the author of many distinguished books for children, she became deeply involved in tracking down the killer. The result was the ecological mystery: Who Really Killed Cock Robin? As he tries to figure out who really killed a male robin found dead in his town, young Tony Isidoro threads his way through a maze of clues that includes trillions of ants in the town park, the absence of frog songs, and strange fumes from the town dump. This book was originally published in 1971, but you'll see that many of the robin facts and ideas in it are applicable today. The book is dedicated to "sunshine, clear water, and sparkling skies and the kids who are cleaning up the earth." Journey North hopes you'll gather copies of Who Really Killed Cock Robin? and choose from among more than a dozen activities across the curriculum with our in-depth lesson as you enjoy this important mystery adventure:

Name That Tune! Response to Challenge Question #1
Last time we said robins sing when they arrive on territory, and that with careful listening by all observers, we will track the robins' arrival on their breeding territories across the continent. (Just a reminder: The "catch" is that some robins don't migrate at all, so their first song actually represents the beginning of the breeding season.) We asked: "Which vocalization (numbered recordings on the Web) will you hear when your robins are back on their breeding territory?"

Here's a big HOORAY for these students, all of whom correctly answered vocalization #4 as being the robin's song:
  • Savannah McMullen at Hunters Woods Elementary
  • Andrew, Kyle, Ben, Brendan and Casey in Ms. Thurber's second grade at Ferrisburgh (Vermont) Central School
  • Iselin Middle School 7th graders Aksam, Khurram, Ashley, Krystal, Jackie, Purshotan, Jose, and Geldolf

Practice listening to the robin's song again, so you'll know when your robins are back on territory and ready to breed:

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 #2 (OR #3)
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 March 12, 2002 (data only)

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