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?

One of the reasons that robins follow humans about is that, like some other species, robins engage in ‘commensal feeding’ where one species (robins) acts like an attendant to the other species (humans) and keeps watch for its food to be uncovered. When wild pigs were more numerous, the robins followed them, and probably still do, to watch for any food turned up, but humans also do a fine job of turning up the soil to reveal robin food and we serve just as well as pigs. It would be easy to think that robins are being friendly, but really they’re just opportunists who know when they’re on to a good thing. Nonetheless, they are very nice to have around and feeding all garden birds brings the reward of their increased presence in our lives.

13-02-2015-robin-2Choosing a mealworm


What has been very interesting is to watch the reaction of other birds to the robin’s easy meals. A male and female blackbird (Turdus merula) are spending a lot of time foraging near the garage and woodshed and they have been watching closely as the robin comes for the mealworms. The male is still nervous and doesn’t come closer than about 60cm (approx 2 feet), but several times we’ve seen him run up and try and take worms from the robin, though without success. The female is more confident and will eat as many mealworms as she can cram in. She once ate 50 in one go and would probably have eaten more if they’d been available. She has in the last week started taking mealworms from Karl’s fingertips.


I’ve seen pictures in the media of a robin taking food from between someone’s lips and while that sounds like it could be exciting, the following quote from David Lack’s ‘The Life of the Robin’ tells of unintended consequences. ‘Under the heading ‘A Magpie’s Delicate Attention to its Mistress’, the Literary Gazette for 12 October, 1850, noted:

A favourite magpie had been accustomed to receive dainty bits from the mouth of its mistress. The other day it perched as usual on her shoulder and inserted its beak between her lips; not, as it proved, to receive, for, as one good turn deserves another, the grateful bird dropped an immense green fat caterpillar into the lady’s mouth.’

I wonder if it might have been a caterpillar of an Angle Shades moth (Phlogophora meticulosa) or maybe even a migrant Convolvulus Hawk-moth (Agrius convolvuli)? Happily, we shall never know.

9 thoughts on “The bold robin has become bolder still

  1. What lovely pics and a great read Miranda! Thank you.
    They are lovely companions in the garden aren’t they. On my plot there’s a blackbird couple that took residence in the greenhouse next to mine. They keep a close eye on me too. They won’t come closer than 4 feet and still try to hide under plants and shrubs but they’re so noisy I always know where they are.

    1. Thank you, Eva!

      How lovely that you have bird companions on your plot – they really are nice to have around. I hope that with time they get used to you and stop hiding! That’s sure to happen this spring when they have young ones to care for.

  2. I love these little redbreasted fellows too, so really enjoyed your lovely pics Miranda. There are two vying for territorial rights in the garden right now, along with blackbirds and goldfinches. Great fun to watch.

    1. Thank you, Fossil!

      When we opened the door this morning there was a robin right outside the door.

  3. This morning, I’d come in through the door to get a couple of fat balls and when I opened the door to the courtyard to go back out, the robin was waiting outside the door and rather than flying off (because of the door suddenly opening), simply stood there staring at me.

    Then, flying in short hops, it kept pace with me as I walked across to the garage, and by the time I opened the door was waiting inside on the carpet before I’d managed to get mealworms into my hand.
    The idea had been to encourage the boldness of our courtyard robin, but now I’m not sure who is encouraging whom. It’s like being herded by a creature not much bigger than a tennis ball.

  4. I’ve not tried hand feeding our visiting robins, but they do seem braver than many other species. They’re the least likely to fly away when I open the window in the hope of photographing them.

    1. Try it, Patsy, they gain confidence very quickly.

      I suspect that when spring arrives and we start leaving the door open, at least one of them will come into the house.

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