Notes from the Field

Migration Mystery: Listen to the singing!

April 21st, 2016 by Natalie Boelman

This morning we woke up to a lot more bird songs in the forest compared to what we’d been hearing in the days before. We were pretty excited. We waited and watched for any of them to fly into our nets.


In this video, you can’t really see that there are lots of birds around, but you sure can hear them! At the end of the movie, you’ll also see Brian and Nicole coming out of the woods where we have some nets up. See those cloth bags they are carrying? Each one has a robin in it! The bags are used to transport the birds safely to the location where we work with them. Our nets caught five birds this morning, all at once. We really hit the jackpot!


Meet our four new space robins: Zee, Big Mac, Pepperoni and Billie Jo

We’ve got four more space robins to introduce you to today! You may be wondering why there are only four birds to introduce you to today, even though we actually caught five.

It’s because not all of the birds we caught were big enough to carry the mini-GPS tags, so we had to let them go after weighing them. Here are photos of the four new space robins:


Zee is an adult male. His name was chosen by Mrs. Fluger’s 4th grade class. That’s my daughter Aline’s class! (Credit: Natalie Boelman)



Pepperoni is an adult female – our first female! Her name was chosen by Mrs. Rudin’s 4th grade class. (Credit: Ruthie Oliver)



Big Mac is a 1 year old (juvenile) male. His name was chosen by Mrs. Christie-Blick’s 5th grade class. (Credit: Willem Boelman)


Billie Jo_namecard

Billie Jo is an adult male. His name was chosen by Mrs. Early’s 5th grade class.

Suiting up a space robin

This movie shows Nicole and Brian suiting up one of our new space robins with a harness and mini-GPS. You can see the bird is relatively calm and cooperative.

Movie credit: Natalie Boelman


Releasing a space robin back into the wild

This movie shows Brian releasing one of our space robins back into the wild. Nicole showed us that if you put a bird on it’s back, it stays very still because it has no experience being on its back in the wild – it just doesn’t know what to do on it’s back, so it does nothing. The movie shows Brian giving this technique a shot – pretty neat!

Movie credit: Willem Boelman


How to hold a little bird

This last movie is of Nicole showing us how to hold a little bird. She does the demonstration with a cute little Black-capped Chickadee, not a robin. You can read about Black-capped Chickadees here: Nicole shows us two different ‘grips’ (or holds) that keep the bird safe while it is being examined: ‘Bander’s grip’ or ‘Photographer’s grip’.

Movie credit: Natalie Boelman


More space robins are on their way!

Well, that’s all we have to report today, but we think that a whole lot more robins will be showing up in Slave Lake very soon. That’s because Nicole has a friend living in the city of Edmonton (which is located about 250 km south of Slave Lake) who told her yesterday that there are tons of robins in Edmonton all of sudden. As the birds make their way north from Edmonton, some of them will likely stop in Slave Lake to eat and rest. So stay tuned!

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16 Responses to “Migration Mystery: Listen to the singing!”

  1. Meline says:

    I love the sound of the birds! Do you know what kind of birds live in those woods?

    • Brian and Ruthie (robinauts) says:

      So far we’ve seen 27 different types of birds! Some of our favorites are the red-breasted nuthatches, black-capped chickadees, slate-colored juncos, pileated woodpeckers, and sharp-shinned hawks.

  2. Kayla says:

    Yay, big mac looks really happy. The tape, when the people came out of the woods with the birds in the net was really interesting.

  3. Marco says:

    I thought it was really cool when you tried putting a robin on its back in the wild bandit didn`t move because it has never happened to them before! 🙂

  4. Ryan says:

    What is the biggest bird you have caught?

    • Brian and Ruthie (robinauts) says:

      Big Mac is our biggest robin so far weighing in at 91 grams! The biggest bird we’ve caught is the sharp-shinned hawk.

  5. Esther says:

    It is so cool you can tag the little robins! How much do the robins need to weigh for the GPS tag? Is it unusual that you caught 5 robins?

  6. Kevin says:

    i liked how you guys chachted the robins with a soft bag and good thing there safe to fly away!

  7. michael says:

    the robins in the picture is that how big they get or do they get bigger. Big mac is the one we named and he is big.

  8. Sia says:

    How much do the birds need to weigh to be able to have the GPS on their back?

  9. Megan says:

    I think it is cool that if you put the robin on its back it will not move. Most birds I have ever meet are trying to get away from me, because they are scared.

  10. Catie says:

    It really is amazing to see pictures of the birds up close. I can´t wait to track Big Mac´s migration patterns on my phone.

  11. Daniela Sanchez says:


  12. Livia says:

    It’s really cool that Big Mac is the largest robin you’ve caught so far. Did you purposely decide to name the biggest robin Big Mac? Or were the names chosen randomly?

  13. Julia says:

    Have you caught any other female robins besides pepperoni?