Tag Archives: European robin

Growing feathers is hungry work – helping birds through their moult

A robin (Erithacus rubecula) has been visiting us for three years now. It started as a youngster, coming into the garage and seeming content to perch and watch the activity in there. Seed was put down for it and it returned every day, sometimes several times. After a while, we started supplying live mealworms, which proved extremely popular, and a routine became firmly established.

13-02-2015-robin-2The robin when it first started visiting

Robins don’t live long in the wild, with only about a quarter reaching their first birthday, but I believe this is the same robin. We did have an interloping robin for a season, but that bird behaved differently to this one and the first robin was recognisable when it returned in autumn. The routine established with the first robin three years ago has been repeated pretty much every day since then. This is how it goes: one of us will go to the garage and the door handle will screech as it’s turned. The robin hears this and comes to sit in the wood shed next to the garage. Whoever is there will turn to it and say ‘Hello robin’, which is the signal for it to fly in through the door and stand in a particular spot on a work bench. The mealworms are then produced and the robin will eat several, occasionally stopping to give a sharp glance at its feet.

looking-at-feetThe robin looks at its feet

Being replete, it will then do one of two things – take a mealworm and fly off with it over one of our left shoulders, often ruffling the hair, or fly to a bag hanging from some shelves and perch there. Here, it will polish its beak on the same spot of the bag’s rim and then rest for a while. There we have it; unless we go away, which is not often, this is the sequence we repeat every day. This year, a male and female blackbird have joined in the mealworm bounty, though they prefer to stay outside the garage.

robin-bagResting on its favourite bag

Watching the robin every day, we notice that it has moods. Sometimes it is full of confidence, chest puffed up, and at other times it seems flat-feathered and timid; we wonder if it’s had a near miss with a cat, or if something else has frightened it, but the routine remains the same.

0821-robinDuring the moult and looking pretty scruffy

During the second half of August, the robin started eating more mealworms than usual, up to 16 a visit compared to the current average of six. The increase in appetite was soon followed by it starting to look increasingly bedraggled, feathers loose and sticking out all over. What was happening? It was moulting, as all birds do, shedding old feathers and growing new ones. During this time, birds can’t fly as well as they usually do and tend to go quiet so they don’t alert predators to their dishevelled state. The blackbirds moulted shortly before the robin, with the male losing all his tail feathers. All three birds are now looking considerably smarter, with smooth new feathers and brighter colours. Will they stay with us throughout the winter? Will this be the robin’s last moult? Only time will tell, but the birds’ ‘cafe’ will remain open.

Edit: After reading more, I’ve discovered that if a robin gets through its first year or so, it can live quite a bit longer than 1.1 years. The two oldest ringed robins were 19 years, 4 months, in the Czech Republic and 17 years and 3 months, in Poland. ‘Our’ robin may be around for a while yet!

robin-aug-2I’ll just sit here, thanks

Return of the robin

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.

robin-new-territoryThe usurper surveys his territory

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.

looking-at-feetYep, feet are still there

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.

blackbird-windowWhat?

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.

robin-aug-1I’ll just sit here, thanks

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.

 

The blackbirds and robins are nesting again

Feeding the birds means that we can easily tell for the first time how many broods they are having and when. The main thing we watch out for is whether the birds eat the offered mealworms or fly away with them and, for both robins and blackbirds, it looks like they are onto their second broods of the season.

robin-blackbird

After the garden robin took over the courtyard robin’s territory in May, he introduced a mate and they started courtship feeding around May 5. This continued until May 29 when it abruptly stopped and both birds started appearing separately, which we understood to mean that the female was no longer sitting on the nest and the first brood of robins had been raised. On June 5, courtship feeding resumed and, as far as we know, is on-going. By ‘as far as we know’ I mean that the robins have endeared themselves to our next door neighbours who, seeing us feeding them, naturally wanted to try it for themselves and so the robins are visiting them as well. With a steady supply of good food, it will be interesting to see how many broods are raised this year.

blackbird-doorstep

There are also two pairs of blackbirds coming to us for mealworms, one pair from the courtyard and the other from the garden. They will occasionally all turn up in the same spot and a chase then ensues, but they mostly stay in their own territories. The courtyard blackbirds are still nesting in the ivy that grows on the wall between us and next door and, the young having fledged, the female gathered more material to refurbish the nest and laid eggs again. Those eggs have hatched and both birds are busily feeding young ones.

blackbird-window-3

The garden blackbird’s territory has come to include our kitchen windowsill, as he has spotted us through the glass and will sometimes perch outside and stare in at us. Sometimes he does this while we’re eating our dinner, which can feel a little awkward, and reminiscent of scenes from Dickens’ Oliver Twist where the boy of the same name asks for ‘some more’ gruel. At least with us, the blackbird will get it.

blackbird-window

Robins come calling

The robin is getting bolder all the time and has begun standing on the window ledge and staring in at us through the window. Sometimes he looks at us from the washing line.

robin-line

This morning we offered mealworms through the open window and he came straight for them.

robin-windowEnlarge the picture and you’ll see the blackbird watching from the path

I know that this could become a bit of a  nuisance when we want to have the windows open, but we’ll see what happens. For now, it’s fascinating to see these birds close up and catch the details that we’d otherwise have missed, such as the whisker-like feathers just in front of the beak.

whiskers

I have one picture, above, where you can just make out these feathers and there is a clearer look at them here.

The robins have changed territory – and the blackbirds have discovered mealworms

It’s all go for nesting birds just now and I’ve noticed that the tension of mating season has resulted in new robin territory borders. Where we previously had two male robins coming to us for mealworms and not fighting about it, we now have only one. As April drew to a close, the garden robin and courtyard robin became increasingly intolerant of one another and began posturing and then fighting.

robin-new-territoryThe garden robin surveys his new territory

Now the courtyard robin has left the territory, which has been taken over by the garden robin. It’s a shame because the courtyard robin was the more interesting bird – to start with, he was the bolder of the two and the one who kept looking at his feet. I hope the courtyard robin found somewhere else suitable to move to.

Almost as soon as the garden robin established his new territory, I noticed that he had a mate and was engaging in courtship feeding. He’d come for mealworms, eat a few and then fly away with one before repeating the routine.

robin-maleOn the doorstep, gathering mealworms

The female asks for food by emitting high-pitched cheeps, lowering her body and excitedly flapping her wings until the male feeds her. Having bonded, this behaviour will continue for several weeks as the male provides much of the female’s food while she is incubating eggs in the nest.

robin-femaleThe female being alluring

Once the eggs have hatched, both birds will be involved in finding food for the young robins still in the nest. I’m wondering how long it will be before we have a flock of robins approach us whenever we go outside, as the parent birds are sure to introduce their offspring. Still, it won’t last long for they will disperse at the end of summer and we’ll be back to just one robin following us about.

courtship-feedingOn the doorstep

The mealworms are still attracting the pair of blackbirds and both male and female are coming for worms. The nest is in the thick ivy that grows over the wall and I’m glad that the neighbours haven’t cut it back as this is the second year that blackbirds have nested in the same spot. Their eggs started hatching around May 7, shown by her gathering as many mealworms as she could cram into her beak and taking them into the ivy.

blackbird-eggBlackbird egg shell

 It is said that nest-failure is very high amongst blackbirds but hopefully this nesting attempt will be successful and we’ll see the young birds in a couple of weeks. I think we need to order more mealworms.

We now have two tame robins

We have an interesting development in Robin Land – we’ve realised that we are on the boundary of two territories and that there is a robin visiting from each of them. We have what we call the courtyard robin and the garden robin and, whilst the border is fluid and both robins intrude on to the other’s territory, the house appears to be a definite dividing line.

courtyard layoutRed line showing the territory boundary

Continue reading We now have two tame robins

The bold robin has become bolder still

All images enlarge when clicked.

When I wrote about the robin previously, it was bold but not yet confident enough to take mealworms from the hand.

After we got the mealworms, we thought it would take a few days for the robin to work up the confidence to take them from an open hand, but we didn’t take into account that this bird was already bold – it had already spent a good deal of time watching from quite nearby when anyone has been working outside and would fly into the garage and perch somewhere if Karl was working in there. As it happened, it took just three and a half hours for the robin to pluck up the courage to land on an outstretched hand and grab its first worm. Since then, it will come down often and takes most of the mealworms held out for it.

miranda-robinHow could you resist that face?

Continue reading The bold robin has become bolder still

A very bold robin is keeping us company

 

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.

20-01-2015-robin-1

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.

Continue reading A very bold robin is keeping us company