Contextual generality of roosttime restlessness in captive American robins (Turdus migratorius)

Leonard A. Eiserer, Elizabethtown College


A series of experiments with captive American robins examined factors affecting roosttime restlessness, that is, the burst of locomotor activity that appears at dusk and is thought to be a correlate of the communal roosting habit of this species. First, the restlessness occurred earlier on cloudy days than on sunny ones, suggesting the importance of illumination level in initiating the activity burst. Second, in studies on social effects, the restlessness was greater when robins were totally isolated than when they had visual-auditory access to conspecifics; indeed, when a small flock of robins was housed together, restlessness at dusk was suppressed completely. Third, the birds were more restless when they could see a human observer than when they could not, implying an interaction of tearfulness with the roosting tendency. Finally, restlessness occurred in a large flight cage as well as in small cages, as long as the birds were not maintained in a flock. In sum, roosttime restlessness appears to be a robust phenomenon that occurs under a wide range of laboratory conditions, but which also can be substantially influenced by numerous environmental variables. Further experimental examination of these variables may advance present understanding of the survival value of communal roosting in this species. © 1981 Psychonomic Society, Inc.