The other day I was volunteering at Salmesbury hall, as I do every week. When upon opening the shed door I was surprised to find a robin shooting towards the exit, in a startled hurry. Clearly, the bird was expecting to remain undisturbed. The little robin didn’t fly far, as I kept noticing her foraging for insects in the mud. Excitingly, I suspect that the robin has a nest or rather is making a nest inside of the shed. Given the very mild weather we have had this December in the UK. This prompted me to want to learn more about this charismatic creature – A beloved symbol of the Christmas season.
The Robin: A yule tide assumption and a natural history
People assume that the robin is only a winter time resident in Britain, because they are seen as a Christmas symbol. With the bare branches and peoples minds more awoken to the red breasted birds in December time, robins are easily noticed in December and easily forgotten the rest of the year. Their red breasts and sweet song have cemented them in peoples winter time hearts and crowned them the national bird of Britain; but these chests serve more of a function then brightening up a dull and seemingly lifeless winter-scape. The red breast has not evolved for the purpose of attracting a mate either. In the midst of winter robins have to spend their days defending the breeding grounds from other robins. Which is why they can be heard and seen skipping around. Their red breasts providing a jolt of colour and a smile of life to Britons with the winter blues.
In mild winters, robins can begin their courtship in January. Although, usually they start their courting in March. Perhaps the little robin I have seen flitting about will be starting to court with potential partners in the fast approaching January? A new year, new relations and new life… Robins do not have life partners and really only tolerate each other during the breeding season, as they are highly territorial against their own species. Robins nest in a cup shape, low to the ground in crevices and are notorious for nesting in highly unusual places. One robin has been known to nest in a kettle before! Robins’ layer their cup-nests with dead leaves, moss and hair – hmm Cosy… and is built by the female. The males function is to feed his mate and to copulate. The courtship feeding is vitally important as the females can lose up to 90% of her body weight during the breeding season. The amount of food given to the female also contributes the clutch size the pair can have. Usual clutch sizes are from 4-6 eggs. After 14 days of being waited on hand and foot, the young fledge the nest ready to fend for themselves.
The robin is a charismatic and iconic bird and I for one won’t be taking their presence for granted again. Here’s to December, the season of the robin and hoping that in that unassuming tool shed the tiny chirps of tiny birds will soon be heard.