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Listen to the Robin
The Sounds and Meanings of Robin Song and Calls

Background
Almost everyone knows robins can sing, but did you know they have other vocalizations you can learn to recognize? In this lesson, you'll use recordings to learn six different common robin vocalizations. Then you'll go outside and see if you can hear them in the field. Finally, you'll see if you can identify the context in which robins make each sound.

Activity
1. Learn to recognize these five kinds of robin vocalizations. You might want to play the recordings with a friend, and quiz each other.

All Recordings Courtesy of Lang Elliott Nature Sound Studio

Song

Continuous Song

"Peek" and "Tut" calls

"Whinny"

"Seeee" call

2. Here are the same 6 vocalizations again. Can you recognize which is which?

#1

#2

#3

#4

#5

3. Next, in your field notebook or on a sheet of paper, make 7 columns with these headings:

Date & Time

Song

Dawn Song

Peek/Tut

Whinny

Seee

Zeeup
             
             
             
             
             
             

4. Now go outside near a robin territory and listen for 15 minutes. Each time you hear a robin make one of these sounds, make a tally markt in the appropriate column. Also write the robin's behavior while it was vocalizing, and the date and the time of day. (Make a note of the weather on the back of the page or in your field notebook.)

5. Analyze: What do these calls mean?
When you hear a robin making a sound, try to discover what that call means. If possible, tape record your robins. How many different calls can you hear? Robins have one alarm call when they notice hawks and another for ground predators. They make a different sound when they discover a cat near their nest than when they discover a nearby human. Some ornithologists have described various robin calls as "teek," "tuk-tuk," "teacheach," and "eee." How would you describe the calls you hear?

Lang Elliott, an authority on bird vocalizations, tells us:

  • The robin's song is a territorial declaration.
  • The dawn song is a more animated, excited 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, like a hawk.
  • The "Zeeeup" call is a contact note heard mainly during migration.

Keep this in mind during your field observations so you can see whether you hear examples that agree with these interpretations. For instance, did you succeed in hearing a robin react to a predator or other danger? Describe what you heard and saw.

6. Get to know your robin. Repeat your observations at least 6 separate times. (Listen at different times of the day; the same time each day; and various times during the week, month and/or season.)


Try This! Journaling or Discussion Questions
  • How much do robin songs and calls vary at different times of day? Compare results with other students who listened to different robins at different times of day. Can you draw any conclusions about robin vocalizations? What new questions do you have?
  • Do songs and calls vary between individuals?
  • Try to compare a male and a female. Do you hear a difference between males and females?

National Science Education Standards

  • Plan and conduct a simple investigation.
  • Use data to conduct a reasonable explanation.
  • Behavior is one kind of response an organism can make to an internal or environmental stimulus.


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