The cold weather is making the garden robin (Erithacus rubecula ) bolder than ever and it seems that every time one of us steps outside the robin will be there within moments. We’d wondered how it is that the robin spots us so quickly and we think it might be alerted by the rough sound of the garage door opening. It doesn’t mind its picture being taken, so we’ve managed to get a few.
It started in autumn when Karl was working in the garage with the door open and the robin would come in and perch nearby. Being kind, he would go and get some seeds for it, or some other tasty morsels like bits of cake or hard fat mixed with old bread and jam. These are all received with relish and each time it seems that this little bird is less nervous than before.
Karl has been putting down food in the open-fronted wood shed and now the robin calmly watches him as he cuts wood, darting down now and then for an unseen insect each time another piece of wood is moved.
There is something wonderful about a tiny, bold bird that comes up close and stares at you. I wish they could talk, though they’d probably just ask for food, but their staring puts the message across pretty well, for as soon as the food is put down the robin comes straight to it and starts eating.
I see pictures of other mammals with birds sitting on them – cows or sheep with a crow or magpie on their back – and there is a picture in David Lack’s excellent ‘The Life of the Robin’ of a man with a robin standing on his head. Okay, it would probably poo on me, but it would be lovely to have that trust. There is a real joy in being accepted by another species, of having a small being not tear off in a panic at the sight of you, but carry on with its business, or sit nearby and sing quietly. It makes this human-crammed world feel like a better place.
I have fed with the robin’s favourite, mealworms, before and they do love them. They are also quick to eat up vine weevil larvae and we now take the time to pick those out of compost and put them down to serve as a meal for the birds.
It has been said that a robin will sell its soul for mealworms and that feeding with mealworms is the easiest way to encourage a robin to eat out of your hand. With this in mind, we ordered some live mealworms and a rustling package of them arrived today, so we went straight out to present our offering. As usual, the robin appeared within seconds. It was too nervous to take the worms from Karl’s outstretched hand so he put down a dish of them. Curiously, it pecked the glass a few times before stretching up to look over the rim and taking the first worm. I suppose it hadn’t seen glass before. The pictures are stills taken from a film clip, but they show how it looked.
With luck, over the coming days and weeks, the robin will learn that we’re not going to try and eat it and will get up the courage to take food from our hands. I shall report on our progress.
A slightly different version of this blog appears here: The taming of the robin