The Robin, the bird that, to many, is a symbol of British garden birds in the winter. Although they are around our gardens all year round, they do not necessarily migrate away.
Always seeming cute and lonely they have a dark side as one of the most territorial of garden birds, sometimes fighting to death with other males to get their spot.
A colourful favourite bird to lots of people and it always has a song. It is also one of the tamest birds that with patience you can have eating out of your hand.
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Why associated with Christmas
There many tales of why the Robin is on so many Christmas cards etc. We all know the scene. A Robin in the snow.
The biggest reason is a tale of vice-versa. In the Victorian days of the 1800s the postmen of Britain wore bright red jackets that gave the postal workers the nickname ‘Robins’, after the bird.
And the other way afterwards, in those days the scenes on Christmas cards where of the joy of delivery of cards. The bird, the Robin on Christmas cards grew back from the deliverers nickname and the depiction.
Very territorial bird
Why do you often see a Robin on its own, hardly ever a pair or three? That is because the Robin is actually one of the fiercest and territorial of garden birds. In fact male Robins will fight to the death in the name of their territory.
How to tell a male from a female
Well for start, due to their fierce territory guarding instinct, you can say that if you see two robins together then it is not 2 males. They would just literally fight.
This is also not a species of bird where the male has all the colours and the female is a plain brown etc, think Blackbird where the male is black with yellow contrasting beak and the female is brown.
Both the male and female robin has the red breast. In fact it is more orange isn’t it? And the redness of the breast is never really a tell tale sign either.
Size? Alas no, even though more males are bigger than females, there are occasionally bigger females so that doesn’t help.
So, to the eye it is hard to tell a male and female apart. The best way is to observe.
If one is building a nest carrying twigs etc, only the female does that job.
If one is feeding another adult then that is the male feeding the female as a courtship ritual. Never the other way around.
One of the tamest birds
As you can see from some of these pics I took, I got real close, in fact close enough to use a macro lens on my camera.
You may have noticed yourself, the robin lets you get a whole lot closer than many other varieties of garden birds.
Evolution helped that along the way. Throughout time the Robin waited for the wild boar to turn over the ground as it went along and disturbed the worms etc.
The wild boar in numbers disappeared from the lands but then humans took their place and started to garden and plough, yes turning over the land..
Us gardening humans have basically replaced the pigs in the Robin’s world. It became the gardeners friend. Lots of bird photographers will have a robin on a spade handle shot.
However, if you go out of UK to Europe’s mainland the Robin might not seem so tame, this is because instead of being the gardener’s friend they were hunted.
How to get a robin feeding from your hand
First you need patience. They are tame but not idiots and it will take time and lots of tasty treats and calmness.
Mealworms are a big favourite of robins. Pick out a new place for mealworm feeding that slowly gets the robin going there regularly with you around. Maybe near a chair in the garden.
Birds like to check out a feeding place from above. So keep the feeder or table below the branches or a wall height. but not too low near the ground.
Eventually the bird will start eating the mealworms from the feeder in your vicinity often when you are sat or stood there.
Now the final step. don’t put mealworms on the feeder, but stand with your arm extended and palm open with the worms on the palm.
Stand still, stand very still, stand still for what seems like forever, stand still until your muscles ache. It may never work first time at all or the second time. Just keep going back a step to the feeder with patience and time.
If the robin twists and looks side on at the mealworms on your hand. It is serously tempted and considering it.
And even then it could be an hour or so of checking you out more, checking the food out more with quick fly pasts. But if still, for hours and with patience, it will probably happen if you get this far
I remember one particular cheeky robin when I lived in the Eden Valley. It was such a regular visitor that it started demanding a top up on the bird feeder.
If the seeds and nuts had run out it used to fly to the living room window, get my attention and wait for me to get up, go outside and replenish.