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Miranda Hodgson

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Look out for bold winter robins in your garden

Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 02 Dec 2013 at 03:17 PM

From November to December, it is noticeable that robins (Erithacus rubecula) start appearing in pairs rather than by themselves. From summer until late autumn they will have been solitary and extremely territorial, chasing away any other robin that dares to intrude on their patch. By the beginning of winter, male and female robins form pairs, though the relationship at this point seems to involve little more than not attacking one another.

This one almost stood on my boots


For much of the year, robins are insectivorous, moving to fruit and berries in autumn. Once the easily findable food supplies start to decrease in early winter, they begin to take more interest in the gardening activities of humans and will often follow a gardener around a garden waiting for worms to be turned up by the spade. Tidying up areas that haven’t been tended for a while also attracts them, as you expose previously hidden grubs and small worms. As I spend a lot of time in gardens, I’ve been increasingly noticing that I have the company of one or two of these small red-breasted birds. Usually they will sit in a nearby shrub, sometimes singing quietly, waiting for me to turn up some tasty morsel which they will flit down to take before going back to their shrub. I once scooped up a ground beetle and carefully put it to one side, only to see it go straight into the beak of an observant robin.



 Taking advantage of some tidying up


In some gardens, the robins become so bold that they can start to become a bit of a nuisance and you find yourself constantly checking around your feet to make sure there isn’t a robin there about to be stepped on. Whilst I suspect that no sensible robin would allow itself to get under my feet, it’s natural to worry that it will and so I find myself constantly on the look out.



 Keeping watch


Securing a winter territory is a matter of life and death to robins – it is a source of food and shelter – and fights can break out between interlopers and the territory holder. Initially the intruding robin will be met with singing and then posturing, the resident robin stretching up to show its red feathers to full effect, while swaying its body from side to side in a show of intimidation - there is a good picture of a robin posturing here, though this one looks like it's already been in a fight. If the intruder doesn’t take the hint and leave, a fight may break out with both birds flying up into the air, pecking and clawing at each other.

I’ve seen robin fights twice in the last couple of weeks. Both were over in a matter of seconds and I’d have missed them if I’d been looking the other way. It was during the second fight that I noticed a detail that I might otherwise have missed. Apart from robins keeping me company in the garden that day, there happened to be a chicken pecking about in the soil I’d been digging over. No big surprise, that garden often has a few chickens around and this one would have been about three metres away from me when the robin fight broke out. I heard the commotion and glanced up, just in time to see the chicken’s attention also drawn by the flurry of activity and we both watched the fight with interest before going back to what we were previously engaged in.

Robins are very widespread and can be found in almost any garden, urban or rural, so if you’d like to get a closer look at one, this is a good time of year for it. Just take your fork, go out to the garden and dig for a few minutes and the chances are that a robin will come to keep you company. 


Phot's-Moll said:

I don't have them following me about when I'm digging, but we do have robins visiting our feeders over winter. I always hope to see on Christmas day and I'm usually lucky.

on 02 Dec 2013 at 04:09 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Seeing a robin on Christmas day sounds lovely, Phot's. I remember reading of a man who would go to his allotment on Christmas morning especially to have a dig about so that the robin would get a meal that day.

on 03 Dec 2013 at 09:11 AM

sue1002 said:

I don't have our robin following me about in the garden either but Mr Blackbird does.

on 03 Dec 2013 at 10:39 AM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Well, they certainly follow me - one even got into my car the other day and left a calling card. Blackbirds are nice to have around as well, especially if they're singing.

on 04 Dec 2013 at 09:41 AM

richardpeeej said:

An interesting read Miranda. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You have inspired me to go out into the garden with my camera and dig up some potatoes. Maybe I will see a robin then :-)

on 06 Dec 2013 at 10:39 AM