In preparation for our Big Garden Birdwatch on 25 - 27 January we'll be introducing you to some of the birds that you're likely to find in gardens.  

Today's bird is the robin

Photo by Chris Prince

As I wander down the nature trail I pause to scan for winter visitors – the redwings and fieldfares raiding the hedgerows in search of juicy haws, hips and berries. And then I spot movement on the branch just next to me and up pops a robin eyeing me hopefully; perhaps I have some tasty mealworms to offer him?

You will all be familiar with this little character, indeed you could scarcely avoid him at this time of year  - there are lots of them around the nature trail or he could be following you around the garden!  I say him, but the robin could be a female – it is nigh on impossible to tell one from the other as both look identical and, unusually, both the male and the female will sing.

Robins do seem to become particularly abundant at this time of year – as well as our resident birds we do get an influx of continental robins who pop over the North Sea to enjoy the relatively balmy conditions of an English winter and to take advantage of the food that we put out in our gardens.

With so many robins around, it is not unusual to witness a few squabbles and fights…despite being friendly towards us they are not terribly friendly towards one another. Robins are territorial creatures and will approach any intruders with aggression.  Even the female robin is territorial over the winter and she will sing to let any other robins know that this is her patch and she intends to keep it. But then at some point in spring she will change her mind and relent and allow a male to join her.  Can you imagine the awkward conversation? “Sorry I’ve been a bit standoffish all winter…”

His song will have subtly changed from the rather wistful winter tune to something a little brighter – perhaps hoping that this cheerful song will entice the female to be a little friendlier towards him. He will also bring gifts of food as part of his courtship, demonstrating that he will be a good provider.  The female builds the nest cup, made of dead leaves and moss and lined with hair, often selecting rather odd locations – in discarded wellies, post boxes and even under car bonnets! She will then lay her eggs - if she has been well provided for by the male she will lay a larger clutch – and start incubation. She does this without the help of the male, although he will help out once the chicks have hatched and there are hungry mouths to feed.

Robins are often active at dusk and dawn when few other birds are about, tending to be the earliest birds to start the dawn chorus and one of the last to stop in the evening. They’ll even sing at night if there are streetlights! Robins start to breed quite early in the year so be sure to head out soon to listen to their winter song – will you hear it change as we move towards spring?

We find that our robins particularly enjoy mealworms and there is one who spends much of his time just outside the visitor Centre, by the door to the nature trail, who will even sometimes take them from your hand. I prefer to do this with the dried variety rather than have things wiggling in my hand, but I'm sure the robin would not mind!

Not all of them are this bold so we'd recommend the I Love Robins feeder which has been specially designed with an adjustable roof to deter larger birds and to keep food dry in wet weather.


Pop in and chat to one of the team in our Visitor Centre and they will be happy to help you get your garden set up for birds and other wildlife. Then pop out onto the trail to admire our robins and other wintery wildlife.