I hope you and those around you have made it safely into 2021, and that you found creative ways to make this festive period as enjoyable as possible.

I know many of you will still be in holiday mode right now, so if you are looking for little things to do on these long evenings, I thought I’d offer you one option to fill 15 minutes  or so: a garden wildlife quiz. In fact, I’ve based it entirely around the nation’s favourite bird. No, not turkey! I mean the ever-delightful Robin (regular readers will know I have a particular soft spot for those in my garden).

So, thinking caps on, here are 20 questions with a Robinesque theme, accompanied by some photos from my garden this week.  Answers at the foot of the blog.

1. A robin’s breast is typically orange. So, why do we tend to describe the Robin’s breast as being red?

a) Because ‘red’ was formerly used to describe objects that are ‘orange’

b) Because the breast feathers are actually red at their base, but we only see the orange tips

c) Because Robins were once much redder than they are today – genetic changes in the 17th and 18th centuries favoured Robins with more orangey colouration.

2. True or false: Scottish Robins tend to lay more eggs than English Robins in their clutches.

3. What Robin is the alternative name for Puck, the domestic and cheeky hobgoblin as featured in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

4. Which of the pair of Robins builds their nest?

a) The male

b) The female

c) Both

 

5. True or false: The Robin is named after Robin Hood.

 

6. Is this a male or female Robin?

a) Male

b) Female

c) It is not possible to tell.

 

7. True or false: Until 1952, the official British name for the Robin was Redbreast.

 

8. What colour are a Robin’s eggs?

a) Whitish with buff or reddish freckles

b) Blue without any markings

c) Pale blue with brownish freckles

 

9. Who killed cock Robin?

 

10. What is the best estimate for the number of breeding pairs of Robins in the UK

a) 7.35 million pairs

b) 1.25 million pairs

c) 3.85 million pairs

  

11. In which of these countries would you not find breeding Robins? Morocco; Turkey; Finland; Iceland?

 

12. True or false: Young Robins are only fed by the male.

 

13, Which of these statements best describes Robin song:

a) Short verses (1-3 seconds), each one different, and each on made up of a mix of fast ripples and slower notes.

b) Long verses (4-6 seconds), delivered at breakneck speed, with a characteristic rapid-fire trill in the middle.

c) Short verses (1-3 seconds), at a constant, relaxed pace, with fluty notes followed by a little twiddle at the end.

 

14. In which month are you most unlikely to hear Robin song? January; April; July; October.

 

15. Robins will nest in open-fronted nestboxes. But which of the following statements is true?

a) The box should be tucked somewhere well hidden, ideally behind thick vegetation.

b) The box should be placed at least 5m up, and preferably much higher.

c) You should only put one nestbox per garden.

 

16. How do Robins mainly find natural food in the garden?

a) By flicking over leaves on the ground.

b) By hopping about in the branches of trees and shrubs looking for caterpillars.

c) By watching the ground from a perch and darting down when they see a movement.

 

17. True or false: Postmen in Victorian times were nicknamed ‘Robins’.

 

18. Which fictional character, wearing a red tunic, first appeared in 1940 by the name of Dick Grayson?

 

19. What is the typical foundation of a Robin’s nest?

a) Twigs

b) Leaves

c) Moss

 

20. What is different about the Robin in the song, “When the red, red robin comes bob bob bobbin’ along’?

 

ANSWERS

1. a) The word ‘orange’ only came into usage in about 1500, hence ‘red hair’ being used to describe auburn hair/

 

2. True: The further north and east you go, the more eggs laid on average per clutch.

 

3. Robin Goodfellow

 

4. b) The female

 

5. False: It would be nice if it was true, but it is thought that the ‘Robin’ in Robin Hood comes from a number of old words such as ruadhrí, meaning ‘red king’, whereas ‘Robin’ is the familiar version of the boy’s name ‘Robert’ and familiar birds were often given familiar names.

 

6. c) It is not possible to tell from a photo.

 

7. True.

 

8. a) Whitish with buff or reddish freckles

 

9. “I said the Sparrow, with my Bow and Arrow”. The origins and meaning of this old rhyme aren’t clear – they may tell the story of the death of William Rufus, killed with an arrow, or may indeed be rooted in ancient myth.

10. a) 7.35 million pairs

 

11. Iceland

 

12, False: Young Robins are fed by both of the pair.

 

13. a) Short verses (1-3 seconds), each one different, and each on made up of a mix of fast ripples and slower notes. b) describes the song of the Wren, c) the Blackbird.

 

14. July. Male and female Robins sing all winter to defend feeding territories, and male Robins sing in spring to attract a mate as well as defend the breeding territory. All tend to stop singing in late summer when they moult their flight feathers and become very vulnerable.

 

15. a) The box should be tucked somewhere well hidden, ideally behind thick vegetation. The box should be placed at least 5m on lower, and it is fine to put several nestboxes around the garden – your garden may only be large enough for one pair, but they will choose the one that suits them best, and Wrens may use the others.

 

16. c) By watching the ground from a perch and darting down when they see a movement. Hence their love of perching on the handle of a fork or spade, a perfect height from which to survey the ground below.

 

17. True. Postmen in London had been wearing scarlet since 1793, and outside London in 1834. This uniform only lasted until 1861, but must have been very striking at the time. Anthony Trollope, in Framley Parsonage, wrote, ""Oh, but it's mortial wet," said the shivering postman as he handed in... the vicar's newspaper. The vicar was a man of the world, and took The Jupiter. "Come in, Robin postman, and warm theeself awhile." This helps explain why Robins on Christmas cards are often seen holding cards in their beaks, but their prominence on cards is also due to the connection of the Robin to the story of Christ, plus their presence in so many gardens in winter and the general affection we all have for them.

 

18. Robin, as in ‘Batman and Robin.

 

19. b) Leaves. Hence the value of leaving piles of fallen leaves tucked around the garden in autumn.

 

20. The song was written by an American, Harry Woods, and would therefore have been based on the American Robin, as our European Robin is not found in the New World.

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