American RobinC Watts/CC BY 2.0

American Robins are Classic Songbirds

The American Robin is a great species to get to know. The species is widely distributed and many other birds are said to have robin-like qualities.

As Found in the Field

When you watch a bird sing, you can make a mental connection between its song and the matching beak movements. It’s a little like lip reading—or should we say beak reading— and some people find that it helps them commit song patterns to memory. We’ve included an As Found in the Field video with each featured species for those of you who are visual learners.

Eric S. Liner/Macaulay Library
[American Robin singing while perched on a branch, with other birds also singing and calling] End of transcript

How to Talk About It

MnemonicCheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up
TempoDelivered quickly, but with long pauses between phrases
PitchRises and falls with each syllable
RhythmA series of several steadily repeated phrases
RepetitionAround four to eight whistled cheerily or cheer up phrases
Tone QualityClear-toned, pretty, melodic, caroling, wavering, and whistling

Learn the Sound Pattern

Listen to another American Robin song, this time paying attention to the pattern and tone quality of the notes. The song is a string of 10 or so clear whistles assembled from a few often-repeated syllables.

Wilbur L Hershberger/Macaulay Library

Song Spotlight

Now let’s revisit our soundscape but this time focus on just the American Robin.

Photo: Ryan Schain/Macaulay Library. Audio: Gregory F Budney/Macaulay Library

Many of us get to see American Robins hopping about on our lawns, but once you tune in to their song, you’ll be able to readily identify them even when they’re tucked away in a bush.

How would you describe the vocalizations of the American Robin?

I always thought they sounded like they had a conversational way of singing. Many field guides describe them as sounding like they are saying “cheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up” and as being melodic, caroling, wavering, whistling, pretty, and clear-toned.

Let’s look at the Robin song in the Tahoe soundscape. As the robin sings, its vocalizations will be colored so that you can differentiate it from other species.

[Birds singing and calling] 

Do you see how the robin’s song looks different than the others?

You can see in the spectrogram that the robin stands out as being louder than anything else and lower in pitch than the Chipping Sparrow, which you will meet next.

The tempo of the song also is rather slow. End of transcript

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