Notes from the Field

Home Sweet Home

April 24th, 2017 by Ruthie Oliver, Columbia University/LDEO

We are singing again! Or at least our speaker is, in the hope of enticing robins on to the field. After our success in attracting the attention of migratory robins with a recorded call, we have been trying to draw in more robins by playing it through a wildlife speaker. We noticed that one robin was particularly interested in the speaker. After taking a closer look at him, we saw he was wearing a band. We place a band around the robins’ legs we catch so that they can be identified by us, or other researchers, even after their GPS backpacks have fallen off. Bird bands are tiny aluminum bracelets that weigh next to nothing, but have a unique ID number stamped on them. To learn more about banding birds, click here.

Last year we recaptured a robin wearing a backpack a week after we had originally caught him. We were fairly certain he was breeding here and done migrating since he had stuck around for a week, so we took his backpack off to put on another robin. The robin that was intent on checking out our speaker was wearing a band. He’s very likely the same bird we caught last year. That means our resident robin came to breed at the Boreal Centre again!

The returning, resident robin inspecting our speaker.

It may be that the singing worked, or entirely coincidental, but we saw the largest flock of robins so far. Nicole estimated that there were about 120 robins! As the flock descended onto the grass, our resident robin fiercely defended his territory. How many robins can you count in this video?

Some thing, or some predator, spooked the flock, because they flew off very quickly. Fortunately some of them ended up in our nets.

Carrying five robins in their bird bags into the lab (left). Tying a knot to secure the GPS backpack (right).


We put a dot of glue on the knot to ensure it does not come undone (left). A Space Robin ready to fly (right).

Meet Star, Scuttle, Fury, Mr. Noodle, and WiFi!

Boreal beavers

Last year we noticed lots of evidence of beavers at work around the Boreal Centre. Although we saw signs of the beavers, we never saw any of them in action.

Here’s a movie that shows a beaver pond near the Boreal Centre. Can you guess who has chopped down all of the trees?

The other night, my mom and I ventured over to the beaver complex around sunset and there they were! Two beavers were swimming in the pond they had created!


Beavers are remarkable swimmers, partly because of their webbed hind feet. Did you notice the beaver slapping his tail on the water? He does this to scare predators (and in this case, me).  The beaver was entirely comfortable in the water, despite the melting ice, because of his dense coat of fur. Beavers change their environment to suit their needs. Beavers build dams to create ponds, which help them escape from predators in the water. Beaver ponds create habitat for other species, like fish and waterfowl. Because of their critical role in creating habitats, beavers are often referred to as a “keystone species.”

Check back soon for more updates on the Space Robins and their boreal neighbors!

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16 Responses to “Home Sweet Home”

  1. Aline Waldhauser says:

    I LOVE all the awesome videos!! i especially liked the one with the beaver swimming and then slapping it’s tail at the end! it was so cute! Awesome birds! i love them! they are all so cute! mine is Wifi. 🙂 😉

  2. ian raines says:


  3. Ms. O'Brien says:


    Thank you for taking the time to update us on your project. The students were so excited to see their names attached to birds. We had a robust discussion about experiences several of them have had spotting beavers. My husband and I would drive to Harriman Park in Rockland County to watch two beavers on Sunday nights. It was very relaxing. So glad you and your mom are able to enjoy the magic of nature together. You will never forget this experience!

    What do you do when you are not working, other than watching the beavers?

    Ms. O’Brien

  4. Nora^-^ says:

    The birds are all so cute and the names suit them perfectly. I love how the beavers splash in the water. It is so cute. I wonder if more beavers live in that pond? Also have you already started tagging the birds? Thank you so much Ruthie and the whole robin migration team this website is so amazing and helpful.

  5. Dani says:

    I love these adorable videos they are amazing!We are lucky to have these videos thank you.I love the robbins our tables bird is scuttle.I also love the beaver video! Thanks again! -Dani

  6. Ella says:

    Wow!!! I never knew that beavers did that crazy tail slap onto the water!! I always see evidence of beavers, but I have only seen the real animal once. I can’t believe that the beaver went that close to you! You must have been very still.I am still marveled at that film!

  7. Nolan says:

    Wow some birds look like they were fighting against you, but some of them look like they they’ve been tracked before. It’s amazing how carefully you handle them. The sounds must be perfect for the bird to think its real!

  8. OLIVIA says:

    The robins are soooo coool!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And one of the robins is named after the name me and Hannah picked!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!:);) It’s so cool how the gps go on the robins. I wish I was there!

  9. Shayan says:

    WOW, what you are doing is amazing. I never knew beavers played such a key role for other animals habitats. Its pretty amazing that you’re able to recapture birds that you already tagged. I like that you can attach a gps that can teach us so much about robins but won’t affect them at al. I have one question for you, has climate change/ global warming impacted the robins migration path?

  10. Michael says:

    Wow!! I never knew that beavers actually slapped their tails on the water. And that a beaver went that close to you is just amazing! Also I didn’t know that beavers can change their environment. I had no clue that the beavers are called to as “keystone species”.

  11. Jake says:

    It’s fascinating to see the beavers swimming in their dam. I find it cool they can build and cut down trees with there teeth. Also, before reading this, I wondered how you transported the robins to the observatory, but I realized that you put them in bird bags. At first I thought it was cruel, but I realized there is not many options to make a robin move. Amazing work, Ruthie!

  12. Clare says:

    The robins look so cool! I especially like WIFI. She/he is adorable. I think that Dream will fly the farthest. The beavers that were in the pond were really cool.

  13. Hannah says:

    Wow! That is amazing how you found two beavers in the pond. That is so interesting. I am very happy you found star that is my robin. Are you almost done with naming the robins? it looks so beautiful there it is amazing!

  14. Emma says:

    Mama ra ra and Mr. noddle are the cutest bird in my opinion. It is really amazing how many birds you can find in just the snow!!!!!:)

  15. Arpi says:

    Wow! It was really cool that a bird that was tagged last year had come again to the same exact spot to breed again. And I never knew that you put the birds in tiny bags.

  16. Gabe says:

    Wow! That is such a coincidence that you met a bird that you put a band on last year! I’m surprised that the bird wasn’t trying to escape when you were putting the GPS on it! This was all really cool! I can’t believe that the beavers made that whole pond!