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Recognizing a Good Territory from Above

Robins can see our backyards from inches away or from the sky above.
Photo: Wayne Kryduba
If a robin hears another male's song, it knows there's good territory down below.
Photo: Tom Grey
Robins often make nests in evergreen trees before other trees leaf out.
Julie Brophy

What We See
We humans look at the world from our vantage point a few feet above the ground. Robins see just about everything from different angles than we do. For example, we see our own backyard from eye level, from the porch when we're outside, or from looking out our windows when we're inside. If we sit outside in a lawn chair, we see things a little differently. Imagine if we saw our yard from the top of the tallest tree around, from within a thick shrub, from three inches above the ground, and from the air while flying above the treetop. What might robins notice that we usually don't see?

What Robins Notice
Robins migrate by day. As they fly over a neighborhood, they look and listen for signals that they are over a good territory. One thing they notice is other robins singing. If they hear a robin song from above, they know there's a good territory down below, but it's already taken. But if there is only one robin singing, there might still be some nice spots available. If they hear lots of trucks or bulldozers, or blue jays squawking or a hawk calling, they may decide the ground below is too dangerous for a territory.

What else do they notice? Robins usually make their first nest of the season before trees completely leaf out. From the air, they probably look for evergreen trees or eaves on a house that might provide shelter. A berry bush or crabapple tree with a few apples still on it might look pretty good as an emergency food supply, especially in early spring before they can count on finding worms every day.

A nice big lawn without a lot of bushes or trees in the middle is very nice for robins, who seem to prefer an unobstructed view while searching for worms. This probably protects them from predators who might lurk behind shrubs. Robins seem to prefer places that have fresh water for drinking and bathing. So puddles, bird baths, little streams, and other water sources are very enticing for robins. Can you think of any other things that robins might notice that tell them a particular area is a good, or a bad, potential territory?

Try This! Journaling Questions

  • Imagine you are a robin flying over your backyard during spring migration. What do you see and hear? Make a list of all the things that might appear from above to be signs of a good territory.
  • Make another list of things that might appear from above to be danger signals. Now imagine you fly down for a closer inspection. How good a territory does your yard seem from close up?

Digging Deeper
Once your backyard robins settle in, they develop boundaries so neighboring pairs won't have to fight over their territories. If you pay attention to where each robin sings and feeds and perches, you can even draw maps of your neighborhood robin territories. How? Learn about it here:

National Science Education Standards >>


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