Working in the woods during the cold weather, I can’t help but notice that certain birds come closer to me and may even follow me about. Wrens, usually extremely shy around humans, become quite bold in their search for food and can be seen flitting in and out of the brash structures being made in the woods.
Blackbirds notice that people picking up brash disturbs the leaf litter, saving them the effort of doing it themselves, and they will follow in the wake of the dragged branches to pick up the insects that have been revealed. As is so often the case, it is the robin that steals the show.
I don’t know if it is the same robin, but I’ve been followed about the woods by a robin since I started work there in late 2014. It hops about the structures being built and will peep out at me from the interior. Sometimes it sits nearby and sings a quiet, sweet song, so quiet that surely only I can hear it which makes it feel like the song is for the bird and me alone.
They are pleasing company, these little birds, and never more so than in the cold winter months when they come close to take advantage of the treasures revealed by brash being moved. They also watch us eat and have learned to recognise the little waxed canvas pouch I keep nuts and dried fruit in, paying keen interest as I bring it from my pocket. What I do next sounds a bit disgusting, but the birds appreciate it – I take some fruit and nut, chew it up small, drop the bolus to ground and move away a few metres. In moments the robin comes to partake of the partially puréed treat. This has been going on for many weeks now and it feels somewhat like playing the role of a bird parent.
At home, me and Karl talked about the woodland robin and decided to try offering it some of the live mealworms the ‘home’ robin has been enjoying for the last few years. I found a little plastic tub for the worms to go in and we took them to the woods with us the next day. We started work and waited for the robin to appear, then primed it by getting out the pouch of nuts and dried fruit and offering a chewed glob. To this was added a few mealworms and the open tub was set nearby. As we’d hoped, the robin ate some of the chewed mix and then went for the mealworms, after which it looked into the tub and started helping itself.
What happened next was charming. At lunchtime, we moved to an area we use for cooking, where there are various upturned logs, some with slabs of stone on them. It’s a very pleasant spot for eating under the trees and we’ve often made a merry group there with others we work alongside.
The robin has been known to follow us there, where it will sit in a nearby larch and fly down for dropped morsels. On this occasion, we gave the robin its own place on one of the slabs and put out some worms and the open tub. As we ate our hot rolls, the robin stood nearby and ate its worms. Occasionally we looked at each other. Afterwards it perched nearby and sang quietly for about three quarters of an hour.
And that was the story of the day we had lunch with a robin.