As autumn slowly ebbs into winter and temperatures dwindle into single figures, the slightest hint of cold air can make me retreat further into my downy bed. Getting up early on a wintery morning goes against common sense and hibernation seems a solid plan.

Surprisingly, only a handful of wildlife in the UK truly hibernate hedgehogs, hazel dormice, and bats. A few other species, such as badgers and red squirrels enter a state of torpor if environmental conditions dictate. This short-term survival tactic allows animals to enter a deeper sleep while conserving energy. Some scientists refer to this state as ‘hibernation light’, it could last a few days, weeks or just a single night.

But winter is not a burden for all wildlife. As the grey and cool violet undertones of a morning sky unveil, a lone member of the dawn chorus can often be heard greeting in the day. In the season when gardens are virtually silent, the morning anthem of the robin is a joyful contrast to the hush of the night. With their large eyes, robins see well in low light and even when the day is fading and the bitter chill of night takes hold, you can still hear the lively melody of a robin rising above the tumult of human noise. In fact, the robin’s merry vocals are usually the first to greet the dawn and the last to salute the sunset.

Many male robins sing all year round and against the stillness of a winter’s day this sprightly song full of ripples, trills and burbled notes sounds crisper and louder than before. The robin’s song is so ubiquitous that many birders use this as the metre by which to identify other bird calls. As we go through winter, you’ll find that the subdued tones of autumn become more powerful and confident as spring approaches. Its purpose is twofold: to attract a mate and defend a territory. In fact, these cheeky chappies are so territorial that they will protect their claim to the death. Their red breast also plays a part here, watch a male robin in a stand-off and you’ll see that he’ll try to display as much of his breast as possible. This posturing is designed to ward off potential intruders, it’s a visual demonstration of the verbalised “This is my patch, get off”.

Like other species of wildlife, robins have cleverly adapted to handouts from humans. When snow and ice cover the ground, they are one of the first birds to hang around my back door in the hopes of a tasty crumb or too. Given that their natural foods of earthworms and invertebrates are difficult to procure from the frozen sod, it’s clear that ingenuity is required. In fact, these garden visitors quickly get used to human presence, particularly if you re-stock your bird tables regularly.

Robins enjoy a wide range of foods including fruits, crushed nuts and suet and seeds, but a firm favourite is mealworms. They’re not good at using traditional feeders preferring a flat surface instead. Don’t forget to leave out fresh water for that all important hydration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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