During the winter of 2014-2015 a very bold male robin (Erithacus rubecula) took up residence in our courtyard and the surrounding area. We bought mealworms for him and he started approaching us when we went outside and even, on a few occasions, came into the house. We put up a bead curtain at the door to dissuade him, but he came under it, so we kept the door shut and he came in through the windows instead. One day, Karl looked up to see the robin staring at him from my monitor and for a few weeks, we changed our routine flinging open of the windows every morning, for birds are not generally used to the insides of houses and tend to become confused and panicky.
Then another robin appeared – the two of them tolerated each other quite well to start with but, as the breeding season got under way, they became more territorial and started to fight and the intruder won. We rather missed the first robin – he had a curious habit of bending over and looking at his feet every few minutes.
During the spring the new robin introduced a mate to us and from the number of mealworms they flew off with, we reckoned they had two broods. She was less forthcoming than him, but the two of them would visit often, hopping about nearby and taking mealworms as they were offered. In mid-summer, she disappeared and we assumed she had been predated, by a sparrowhawk or a cat. Then the male disappeared too and we were robinless for a few weeks, though well attended by a male blackbird (Turdus merula) who took to staring at us through the kitchen window while we cooked dinner.
Imagine the surprise, then, when last week I went to open the garage to find a tool and heard a familiar flutter nearby. A robin landed on a tool handle a couple of feet away and sat calmly looking at me, then he bent over and stared at his feet. The first robin was back. It was as if he’d never been away, for his demeanour had not changed at all. If anything, he seemed more relaxed than before and took to roosting in the open woodshed when anyone was outside – a ping-pong ball sized blob, barely noticeable from a distance. It was lovely to have him back and to wonder once more why he stared so intently at his feet, when other robins don’t appear to – at least, not that we’ve noticed.
There are, however, pitfalls to having such a self-assured bird around – one day, I went to get a tool from the garage. I was running slightly late, but was only slightly perturbed when the robin appeared and alighted on his current favourite tool handle. I gave him a few mealworms; he’d usually go off about his business after this, but that day he decided that a nap in the garage would be just the ticket and he could not be encouraged to leave his comfortable roost. I tried glowering at him from all angles, but he just stared at me and stayed put. I looked at him sitting there so impassively and thought, ‘Now what?!‘. The situation felt rather absurd and I was struck at just how determined wild creatures are and that you really cannot persuade them to do anything they don’t want to do, they are very much their own beings. The robin wasn’t confused and didn’t appear to be frightened – he seemed to feel safe and comfortable where he was and didn’t want to move, so in the end I decided I’d have to let him get on with it; the only option was to leave the garage open and be grateful for over-looking neighbours in case of human intruders. He’s still very welcome, but maybe we should move some of the tools out of view.