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American Robin Migration Update: March 2, 2004

Today's Report Includes:

Latest Migration News

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

First Robins

of Robins

First Robins Heard Singing

Thanks to the many Journey North participants who have reported their sightings! Robins are appearing in more places, but no big push northward has occurred yet. (Even though the over-wintering robins are already spread across a large portion of their range, we're about to see huge masses of them move across the continent.) Where do you see robins this week where none were seen before? Do you see the clusters of dots are starting to move north as well as across the continent? As the robins move farther northward, we expect to see more WAVES (groups of 3 to hundreds) of robins in southern regions and more FIRST robins in the north. Please keep watching and reporting!

Photo by Gordon Kratzat for The Wisconsin Society for Ornithology

Coming in Waves, Coming for Worms
"I came across hundreds of robins on the roadside (2/24/04) and today there's a flock in a tall tree in my yard. I haven't seen robins all winter, so they seem to be on the move. One robin flew alongside the car as I drove, so I checked its speed. It was flying exactly 25 mph." wrote Elizabeth in Charlotte, VT.

Mrs. McGehee's Room 12 Mighty Ducks (Fairfield IL Fairfield Elementary in Fairfield, IL) "observed 27 robins on the playground today (2/26). It was 10:30 am, the temperature was 43 degrees Fahrenheit or 7 degrees Celsius, and the sun was shining. The robins were observed by team captain Kaylyn and classmates through binoculars so that they would not scare the birds away. Some children actually recorded a few birds yesterday on the class "Wildlife Observation" chart that is displayed in our classroom."

At Stewart Elementary in Washington, Iowa, Ms. Haberer's class wrote: "Saw our first robin today--getting worms in front of our school. We have found that the area right next to the building is the best place for worms this early!"

"The morning of the 27th, we saw the first waves of Robins heading north along the Atlantic coast of Northcentral Florida. This morning, I was awakened by the singing of Robins, and got up to see them. The sky was filled with great waves of Robins, and our yard had many Robins on the ground. I have a pond, and there were many at the water's edge, drinking. They seemed to be taking turns at the water. The waves continue, and it is indeed a wonderful sight!" Wrote Linda from Palm Coast, FL.

These comments offer good evidence for what you'll find in the rest of our report, including your answers for Challenge Question #2.

Photo Julie Brophy

Will You Hear Your Robin Announce Its Arrival? Calls and Songs
We've said that 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. The five different vocalizations made by robins are listed below with their sound recordings. Only the first is the true song, but all five sounds have their own meanings, says bird-vocalization expert Lang Elliott. While you wait for your robin to arrive, learn to recognize its true song. That's how you'll know YOUR robin has reached the end of its migration.

  • The robin's "song" is a territorial declaration.
  • The "peek" and "tut" calls are heard in alarm situations.
  • The "whinny" is heard in mildly alarming situations.
  • The high-pitched "Seeeee" call is given in response to the presence of an aerial predator.
  • The "Zeeeup" call is a contact note heard mainly during migration.

All Recordings Courtesy of Lang Elliott Nature Sound Studio

Wait for download;
96 K file.

"Peek" and "Tut" calls
Wait for download;
162 K file.

Wait for download;
138 K file.

"Seeee" call

Wait for download;
184 K file.

"Zeeup!" call
Wait for download;
158 K file.

Name That Tune! Challenge Question #3
Now you're ready to play Name That Tune! Here are the same five vocalizations again, in scrambled order. Write down the numbers, then listen to the recordings. What is the name of each call, and what does each call mean? Finally, answer this all-important challenge question and you'll be ready to track the migration!

Challenge Question #3:
"Which vocalization (give the number after listening to the choices below) will you hear when your robins are back on their breeding territory?"






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

Announcing Journey North's 2004 Early Bird Contest!
How long will it take robins to reach the end of the road? Once again this spring, students at Sand Lake School in Anchorage, Alaska will officiate our annual Early Bird Contest. In this contest, we challenge you to predict when the first robins will be seen in Anchorage. To enter the contest, simply answer this question:

Challenge Question #4:
"When do you think the first robin will be spotted in Anchorage, Alaska (61.22 N, 149.90 W)? Do you think it will arrive with the 36-degree isotherm?"

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

In the meantime, here's a big clue. Dates of "first American robin arrivals" in Anchorage for the past seven years are:

Robin Arrival in Anchorage
1997 Week of April 5
1998 April 6
1999 April 26
2000 April 17
2001 March 29
2002 April 11
2003 April 7
2004 What's your prediction?

Tracking Robins to the End of the Trail: Making Predictions
Anchorage isn't the only far-north place where people are eagerly awaiting robins. To ensure that the first robins to reach far north are properly noted and welcomed, Journey North has set up more than 20 Northern Observation Posts (NOPs) where observers will report their first robins. When does John Nagy of Inuvik, NT expect the first robin? Which NOP has already spotted a robin? Why does Stan in Homer, Alaska say, "We need to gain daylight fast here in order to get to 12 hours of daylight by the equinox"? Find their comments, a map of our newest NOP locations, and links to downloadable prediction charts here:

Or go directly to your prediction charts here:

Tracking Temps AND Robins: Do Robins Really Follow the 37-Degree Isotherm?
Right now many robins are in the north where the average temperature is still much colder than 36 degrees. But many ornithologists say that robins follow the 36- or 37-degree isotherm during migration. Isotherm means "same temperature." The isotherm is an imaginary line that connects places having the same average temperatures. The isotherm migrates across the continent as temperatures warm in the springtime. Why not test an age-old theory about robin migration by asking, "Is it true that robins arrive when the isotherm reaches 36 degrees?" Our hands-on lesson below includes an example that shows how to calculate the isotherm by averaging the daily temperatures over a period of time. Learn to do that for your region and you can test whether robins travel with the isotherm.

Each robin report this season will include the isotherm maps like those below to help you test this theory.

  1. What color is the part of the maps showing the average 37-degree isotherm?
  2. Has the 37-degree isotherm moved in the past 2 weeks?
  3. Have robin movements shown a pattern similar to the change in the 37-degree isotherm?
  4. Do the changes in where the 37-degree isotherm is correspond to where robins have been singing?
Average Temperature in United States Week of February 15-21, 2004 (left) compared with Week of February 22-28 2004 (right).

Photo Courtesy of
NOAA Climate Prediction Center.
(No map available of entire continent.)

Map-reading Tips
IMPORTANT: The map at the top of this report is a snapshot in time for March 1, but a click on the map links you to the latest map on our new MapServer. That map looks different. Why? Because it is continually updated as observers report data.
Try this: 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 you see? Learn how to "eyeball" the data, see patterns and ask helpful questions with our map-reading tutorial:

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

Flock to the Photo Study: Discussion of Challenge Question #1
Last time we studied Becky Stanton's photo of robins ringing a bird bath and asked: "Would you see several robins in one bird bath in June or July? Explain."

"You would not see several robins in the bird bath in June or July. They are stressed being busy with everything going around. They are busy taking care of their babies. They don't want other birds around their babies. They only want to protect and feed their family. That's all they have time for!" Erik - Grade One, Ms. Thurber's class

"I think that in June or July, we will not see many robins perching on the SAME bird-feeder. June and July are summer, and robins are not sociable in the Spring and Summer. Only in Autumn and Winter. So if another bird flew on to the bird-feeder, a bird that was already on the bird-feeder might pick a fight or fly away." Mallika - Grade 4, Lexington MA

"You won't see several robins in one bird bath in June or July. In spring and early summer, "robins get stressed when robins, other than their mate and babies, come close. They get high blood pressure and their heart rate increases." This is due to the competition for mating during these months. This makes them avoid many other robins and you certainly would not find then in a bird bath together. In the autumn and winter, they join flocks to feed, drink, and hang out together." Mark, Om, Sinnamon, Jennifer, Rima, Gabriel, Justin, Shivom, Elliot, Javed - Iselin Middle School/Gr 7

Your reading, research, and logic showed in your answers. Thanks to all of you for sharing your good thinking!

Robins in Winter: Discussion of Challenge Question #2
As we heard your comments and looked at the Winter Round-Up map, we wondered: "How many variables can you name that affect where, when and how many robins you might see in the winter time?"

Thanks to all of you who "thought like a robin" and sent answers. Together, your lists were impressive! You listed these things:
1. Weather. Amber Jane said "They should live in warmer climates instead of staying in Canada." (Robins are fairly "weatherproof," but average temperatures of 37 degrees for a week at a time are most important for flocks of robins during migration. During winter they often are far north of where temperatures are in the 30s or lower.)
2. Food supply available. ((This one is most important of all, especially
whether and what kind of fruits and berries are there for them to eat.)
3. Other robins present. (Often in winter when they associate with other robins in flocks, robins are attracted by other robins.)
4. Water. (Clean drinking water is essential for robins, so they are usually found where at least a trickle of open water is available.)
5. Number of trees in the area. (Robins don't nest in winter, but number of trees is a very important issue in spring!)
6. Recent precipitation. (Rain or snowmelt can make the ground moist and soft for earthworms. This is most important during migration, when robins switch their favorite food item from berries to worms. During winter many robins eat no worms at all.) Why do you think Wendell pointed out that you can see more robins after it rains?
7. Predators. Students from Iselin Middle School might have been thinking about outdoor-roaming cats. If robins don't notice a cat, they might be there for a while, but that might be too long! To understand why, see:

NEW THIS SPRING! MapServer Makes Instant Maps
Before, our robin maps were updated once per week. Now, our new "MapServer" adds your data 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. Take a look if you haven't already and try a practice report that shows up on the map in just minutes:

Link to MapServer
Try making a practice report!

Please Report Earthworms Worming to the Surface
"I think it's so fascinating and amazing that I spied my first earthworm (which I just reported) on the exact SAME day I saw my first wave of Robins!" writes Lisa from Reston Virginia. Even though they only travel a few feet, earthworms undergo a "vertical" migration each spring after the ground thaws. If earthworms have wriggled to the surface where you live, please let us know! We'll post a map and data on March 26.

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 #4).
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 9*, 2004. (*Migration Data Only)

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