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American Robin Migration Update: February 17, 2004

Today's Report Includes:

Winter Robin Roundup Results: Here's Where They've Been
Where are robins found in February? And what are they doing? Thanks to Journey North observers across the U.S. and Canada, today's maps and comments give a snapshot. Thanks to all who joined the Winter Robin Round-Up!

At this writing, you've told us that robins in February are found from Florida to Canada, with fewer robins in the middle of the continent--where conditions are drier, winter weather more severe, and fewer fruit trees provide food. You've seen waves of robins (groups of 3 to hundreds) from coast to coast, but no waves as far north as individual robin sightings. And a very few robins in 6 states south of the Great Lakes (but none near the coasts) have even been heard singing.

Today's Migration Maps and Data
Even with all these sightings, what tells you that very few robins have returned to their summer breeding territories? You'll find the answer in the maps and paragraphs below. We admit that tracking the robin migration is tricky, but that's what makes it so fun!

(To view data reported, click on caption below each map. To view the latest map, click on the map itself.)

First Robins

of Robins

First Robins Heard Singing

Copyright Ann Cook
Robin Migration is Tricky to Track
"We had over 7000 on our annual local Christmas bird count," wrote Ms. Loud from Tenacre School in Wellesley, Massachusetts. "With so many resident robins in winter, can robins REALLY be considered a sign of spring?" Good question! The 3 robin maps help to answer it. How? Today's nearly empty song map shows that robins are not yet defending their breeding territory. Robins returning to breed and nest are indeed signs of spring. And "Song" will be the clearest pattern we expect to see as we track this spring's robin migration.
While this map shows WHERE robins were found in early February, it does not show HOW MANY were found at each place. Scientists would say the map shows robin DISTRIBUTION but does not show robin ABUNDANCE. The fact is that, even though robins are already spread across a large portion of their range, we're about to see huge masses of them move across the continent. The abundance of robins is about to shift dramatically from south to north. When they are back on their territories, they'll start to sing! So. . .look to the "First Robins Heard Singing" map for the clearest picture about when and where robins are switching from winter feeding and flocking behaviors to spring migratory restlessness and territoriality. Please see
these instructions so you can help to track robin movements this spring.

First Robin of Spring? SONG is the Key
How can you track the migration if robins are already around? How can you tell the over-wintering robins from the first robins of spring? SONG is the key! Winter robins do plenty of calling and chattering. But when they switch to their true song, the difference will be clear. Remember: "Song" will be the clearest pattern we expect to see as we track this spring's robin migration. Listen to robin vocalizations to help you sort calls from songs:

Taken January 26, 2004 by Becky Stanton in Gahanna, Ohio.

Flock to This Photo Study and Challenge Question #1
The robins ringing this bird bath appear to be having fun! In autumn and winter, robins become sociable. They join flocks and feed, drink, and roost close together. Go around the bird bath and look carefully at the body postures of each bird as another robin flies in. What does each robin's body posture tell you? Would Becky Stanton be able to take a photo like this in June or July? There's a lot to learn from this photo with our robin expert as your guide:

Then send us your answer to. . .

Challenge Question #1:
"Would you see several robins in one bird bath in June or July? Explain."

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

Robins in Winter: What You Told Us, and CQ #2

Robins Outside School. Photo Fran Ludwig

Most American robins do not need to head for Mexico or Central or South America to find the food and conditions that will get them through the winter. Because a plentiful supply of fruit will keep them going until spring, some robins stay pretty far north. In fact, Robins were seen way up in New Brunswick, Canada. "A couple of my students have seen them as well," reports Ms. Seamans of Lakefield Elementary School in Quispamsis, N.B. In Michigan, an observer called their Detroit over-winter robins "urban pioneers of the downtown shrubbery." The robins you "rounded up" are behaving as expected during mid-winter: they are feeding, flocking, and flying. Just a few comments:
Florida: (Feb 14) "Observed a very noisy wave during misty cold front around 12pm-1pm. Easily hundreds of birds. Very exciting on Valentine's day."
Arkansas (Feb 12) "Woke up this morning with approximately 50 Robins in my back yard. They were chirping and frantically eating. They were rather large and looked very healthy."
Missouri: (Feb. 10) "We have had, for us, a very cold and snowy past three weeks but this morning we awoke to the chattering and singing of 500 or more fluffed out and cheerful Robins."
Kentucky: (February 9) "We have robins overwintering here in Cub Run. Huge flocks of hundreds of thousands have been seen. Also, smaller flocks and individuals have been spotted by our students. We haven't heard any robins singing yet."
Alabama: (Feb. 9) "After several days of rain I looked out in my back yard and saw the robins digging leaves looking for food. I felt excited that spring was coming seeing the robins!" Courtney, grade 3
California: (Feb. 1) "Robins first arrived at the beginning of December, as usual, and we have seen flocks of them flying around our neighborhood for the last several weeks, pillaging bushes with berries, hopping on lawns (haven't seen any get a worm yet). Lots of alert chirps but no songs yet."
Ohio: (Jan. 16) "There were hundreds of fat males gorging on berries at the North Olmsted library. It was so exciting I shall never forget it. And at the top of a nearby tree was a hungry hawk, head going left to right, too overwhelmed to strike or (haha) too full."

Challenge Question #2:
"How many variables can you name that affect where, when and how many robins you might see in the winter time?"

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

NEW THIS SPRING! MapServer Makes Instant Maps
Before, our migration maps were updated once per week. Now, our new "MapServer" will add your sightings to the map while you wait. (Maps are remade every 5 minutes, after latitude and longitude of all new sightings have been retrieved.) With the click of a mouse, you can zoom in or out, read comments from observers, print maps and/or save them as image files.

Link to MapServer
Try making a practice report!

 Tip: Watch the robin migration with a "Quick Click and View." Start by locating the pull-down menu at the left of the map. One at a time but in quick succession, bring up the robin maps for first seen, wave, and first song. Do it fast and you will clearly see a pattern. Take time to repeat the process and think about what you see. Every time you look, ask yourself: What patterns do I see?

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:
In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question #1 (OR #2).
3. In the body of EACH message, give your answer to ONE of the questions above.

The Next Robin Migration Update Will Be Posted on March 2, 2004.

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