We have two Robins visit our garden, one is currently rotund, one is svelte. Apart from girth neither of our visitors have any distinguishing marks. Male and females are almost identical. Usually breeding begins in March with the first clutch laid in April but our mild winter will probably lead to an earlier courtship. I’ve read that females require more body weight for producing eggs, so I have fingers crossed that Rotund is a female.
In colder weather both sexes plump up their feathers for insulation and warmth, but when seen at the same time, its clear one is much rounder than the other. So far, there’s no activity in the nest box but Robins create nests in all sorts of odd places, we are fairly sure there is activity in the potting shed, mainly due to the additional droppings on the potting bench. But what’s a little poop between a gardener and her friends!
Renown as territorial birds, both males and females defend their individual patches all year round and once united defend their joint territory for the summer months, parting after their chicks fledge. Last week we watched Svelte defending his territory, eyes to the sky, he had heard the incomer before us and was waiting for the newbie to land, but he wasn’t really aggressive and believe it could have been Rotund landing on the table.
There wasn’t a fight as such, just a baring of his Red Breast, which we read they only do to defend territory, however we have also read in our well thumbed RSPB ‘Handbook of British Birds’, that Robins “have elaborate courtship displays when the red breast of the male is used as a visual signal to attract females and deter males”. Either way, the newcomer hopped off.
I couldn’t quite make out what was being said here, but following the encounter Svelte let out a cry of frustration/warning/who knows? The following day Newcomer came back again to try his/her luck, Svelte postured with head high and lots of red breast baring, despite the wind blowing his feathers apart. We could see no real aggression and the 2nd bird crouched on the ground watching quietly.
Newcomer remained crouched on the ground watching Svelte posture about for a few minutes, Svelte then turned tail and Newcomer flew after him. I’ve read of fights to the death and just hope they both came to a gentleman’s agreement, but nature can be cruel and the brutal fights part of life’s cycle.
(Or as the RSPB book suggests, this is maybe courtship and Newcomer is actually Rotund – her crouching down is the mimicking of a chick and they were off to the bushes for some privacy? – time will tell.) Males chase females from their territories for some days until finally the male accepts her and they become a couple.
Some while later, a slim Robin we assume was Svelte resumed feeding, happy to share fatballs with Blue Tits. Robins are only territorial with their own kind and the only birds we see being chased off are the dowdy, timid ground feeding Dunnocks.
If we do have a couple, there will be courtship feeding – the male feeds the female, apparently its a prominent activity, we are desperately hoping to see this and then will know for sure if who is male and who is female. The male can supply over a third of his mates food intake during nest building and egg laying. She alone is the creator of a cup shaped nest, made of dead leaves and moss, lined with hair. To help her we have saved our Labrador’s soft underbelly hair for months and have placed the soft hair in a mesh feeder ready for all nest builders.
The RSPB report that the parental instinct in Robins is highly developed and they are known to feed the chicks and fledglings of other bird species, including Song Thushes, Blackbirds, Spotted Flycatchers and Willow Warblers, the latter two we do not see but we have had Blackbirds nest in our garden. I guess Robins would only be able to step in if they had no brood of their own. We would be thrilled if these two were a couple and over the moon if there were nesting, egg laying and hopefully successful fledgelings.
I’m joining in with Tina’s My Gardener Says meme Wildlife Wednesday, where lots of other folk from across the globe are sharing their wildlife experiences.
Happy Wildlife Wednesday!
73 thoughts on “Wildlife Wednesday – Love is in the Air for Territorial Robins”
Amazing photos! Your story gives the robins a good deal of personality and I can’t help but think of some of the people I know. If Rotund is persistent, perhpas we can see how they get on. I’m envious of your nesting supplies; I doubt I’d achieve much if I brushed the bellies of my two smooth dachshunds.
Our dog was the runt of a litter of Labradoodles, supposedly they are bred not to malt any hair. Archie is a serial malter, we could knit jumpers from his hair, hopefully the birds will find some use from all of his excess!
Beautifully photos of the robins in your garden. We too have a pair – they’ve been together now for about three weeks already. Last year we had two pairs nesting in the garden! We often see the threat behaviour you describe and last year I saw two (males I assume) locked together (with feet) in combat! They both flew off when I disturbed them – hopefully neither too worse for the wear.
Two pairs nesting must have been so exciting, I’d be thrilled with just one. I’d like to understand more about the threat behaviour and how the males determine which bird is a female, I wonder if she is more patient and does not react to his threats? I’ve read they can pair up early too in a mild winter, I hope they and you are rewarded with some chicks! 🙂
There is a book called “The Life of the Robin” by David Lack – I haven’t read it but have just taken my husband’s copy from the book shelf!
Thank you, I shall track a copy down, most websites give an overview, it would be good to read something more detailed.
oooh, delighted to read this. There is a Svelte and a Rotund here too. Could it be… could it be???
I really hope so, what an exciting time of year! 🙂
This would explain why I never see more than one or two Robins at a time… As brave as they are around me in the garden they simply don’t seem to like groups.
I love those times when I’ve just dug the soil over and a Robin and often a Blackbird forages close by. I read yesterday that in parts of Scotland some Robins do gather in groups but here in the south they are very territorial and only in the Spring do you hopefully see a couple and at other times they are alone.
We had a breeding pair a couple of years ago but they left or possibly died. But earlier this year I saw a new Robin flitting in the garden. With luck (s)he will stick around a bit.
I have a female blackbird that visits that is insanely brave and will almost come up to my hand!
I really enjoyed this post. I hope we have a pair of robins so I can look out for some of the behaviour you describe. I await further instalments about your two.
Much time is being spent watching with piles of other less enjoyable things being put to one side, I hope I can bring a further instalment and that you are visited by a couple as well!
Well you won’t believe how many things I have put to one side these last few days as I try to get some decent photographs of my first irises to open!
Your photograph is so beautiful Annette, on these grey wet days, it was worth waiting for the best light to show her off with.
Such an excellent post, Julie and I see you’re up to your usual stellar standards with photos. Very interesting about your Robins. I also save my dog’s hair for birds, though I don’t have a particular place for it–I usually stuff puffs of his fur between the fence and I know that at least our Carolina Chickadees like to use the fur for their nests. I’d love to hear more of the continuing Robin saga and if they do find themselves “in the family way”–ha! Thanks for participating in Wildlife Wednesday!
Thanks Tina, we had been putting Archie’s hair into the compost bin for years, then realised how valuable the hair would be to birds, they seem to like it too. Its quite windy here so we put it into those mesh fat ball cages in an attempt to contain it. Thanks for hosting, its a meme I always look forward too. 🙂
I love the idea that you collect your dog’s hair for the nest builders; that’s such a brilliant thing to do. I have a robin who comes to check on me when I’m in the garden but I haven’t seen any sign of a mate. The collared doves do have a nest already I’m pretty sure, which is a pain I I find their cooing rather irritating.
You just made me laugh out loud, Collared Doves have a relentless and monosyllabic call don’t they. The sound reminds me as lot of my childhood for some reason but we do not hear them that often at home. I love it when a Robin follows me around, makes me feel quite at one with nature.
Yes it does, doesn’t it?
Great storytelling pictures, especially of Svelte and the Newcomer squaring off.
Robins sure are territorial, especially when nesting. I’ve been dive-bombed a few times, just for walking past their nest — in my own garden! I love their return as a first sign of spring, though.
Thanks Cynthia, that must of been quite an alarming experience, they have sharp little beaks. We were dive bombed last year by Arctic Terns when too near their nest and thats not experience I’d like to repeat!
So funny! and also so early, from my perspective. The robins are most times the harbingers of spring here. Suddenly you’ll see small flocks peeking in the grass everywhere and you know that spring cannot be too far away (late March usually).
Beautiful pictures too, it seems to me like a courtship and I hope you will have them nesting in your garden. They are excellent parents, you should see them fussing around and teaching the youngsters how to feed.
Maybe its our mild winter but there really does seem to be a lot of early bird song. I’ve read Robins are more likely to flock where you are and in Scotland too, here in the south of the UK they are singular. I hope we do get to see them as parents, that would be so exciting!
Beautiful photos and what an interesting story about robins. I love the fact you saved some of your dog’s hair for the nest 🙂
He is the kindest of dogs and loves being brushed, bundling up his hair for birds to nest with is quite therapeutic too. 🙂
Some great photos of your robins Julie! I do hope you have a nesting pair. We have blackbirds and blue tits nesting around the house every year, and yesterday I heard our blackbird’s distinctive call for the first time this year, so he’s back in our neck of the woods again! We don’t see many robins, so look forward to your updates.
This all makes me feel as if Spring is not too far away. How lovely to have both Blue Tits and Blackbirds nest around your house, I hope your returning bird makes a home with you again.
Of course svelte is the male he is worn to a frazzle looking after the female😀
A lovely informative post, with great photos, Julie I will go and have a look at Tina’s blog.
Haha!! My husband would say just that too, Tina writes a great blog, you will enjoy it, I’m sure. 🙂
I have noticed lots of early bird-song too Julie, especially the Chaffinches and the Great Tits. Your photos are so lovely and you have captured the Robin’s character and behaviour exactly! I hope you are blessed with a little Robin family in your garden 😀
We saw lots of visiting Chaffinches in the Autumn but lately hardly, I’m glad you have them visit you. I’d be thrilled with a little Robin family, fingers crossed! 🙂
I will be crossing my fingers for you too 🙂
This is a brilliantly illustrated narrative Julie. Hope to hear more about their romance as it progresses. I must remember to brush down Sadie tomorrow to start a soft pile of nesting material!
Luckily dogs love to be brushed and it makes a lovely way to recycle. From memory Sadie looks to be a good producer of hair!
She certainly is! Being a doodle of course she shouldn’t be, but that is https://widgets.wp.com/notifications/2279803668#genetics for you.
Fascinating behavior and a great story to go along with it.
We are also enjoying a mild winter which is nice after several very cold years.
The mild winters are both a worry and a blessing, but we rarely have really cold winters, just one day of snow for us this year, I just hope with all of this early activity we are not in for a big dip in temperatures in the coming months.
Lovely photos showing the antics of your pair of robins…I too love being in the garden with birds, especially the small ones…good luck with these two…you may have a busy spring taking photos of a family!
Thanks, I really hope they do nest and successfully raise some chicks. There’s nothing to replace gardening with birds around and hearing their song – its quite magical.
Lovely photos and story.
Thanks Su! 🙂
Terrific! Really enjoyed this. Thanks
I’m very glad you enjoyed this, birds bring so much pleasure! 🙂
This is a wonderful post with great photos. I learned so much! I hope you do have a nesting pair. Fingers crossed!
Thanks Eliza, I hope so too! 🙂
Such an interesting post Julie with gorgeous photos. I love my little robins, my constant companions in the garden. I didn’ t realise that the male feeds the female at courting time. I shall watch out for this.
I feel they are my companions too, they leave me with a beaming smile every time one comes close by. I’ve read that they have different songs for Autumn and Spring, just wish I had a more tuneful ear to hear the difference. I shall have to spend more time in the garden!
Such lovely photos of an equally lovely bird, Julie and a delightful story to go with them too. I love Robins and I secretly hope that they make their nest in your potting shed because somehow that just seems like the perfect spot for a Robin’s nest!
Thanks for your thoughtful comment Kate, we had Robins nest in there a couple of years ago and they did not seem to mind me quietly carrying on with my work, I hope you have a lovely weekend. 🙂
Thank you Julie 🙂
What a lovely idea about the labrador fur, it would certainly make a cosy nest. Love your post, it was avian soap opera! Look forward to seeing some fledged chicks later in the year. 🙂
After years of chasing balls of tumble weed like dog hair around our house, it was a eureka moment to find the birds liked it! I hope we see some fledgelings too. 🙂
A lovely approach to a Robin romance illustrated with some delightful images. They are feisty little birds aren’t they? Our garden in Spain had Robins resident and Black Redstarts resident in the autumn/winter that the Robins chased off regularly, probably because they are similar in size and both members of the Thrush family. Looking forward to further episodes.
I’ve just looked Black Redstart up as I do not think I’ve ever seen one here, sadly they are a red status bird. I had not realised you had a garden in Spain, how long were you there for?
In the autumn/winter Black Redstarts tend to move down from the mountains to the warmer coast in Southern Spain and you see them everywhere, even on balconies of blocks of apartments. I lived in Spain for 10 years and had a villa with a garden, although I always felt guilty about the amount of water it took to keep it going, so kept it fairly minimal! I have a Spanish blog that I keep up occasionally, there’s a nightingale icon on this blog that takes you to it if you’re interested.
You have an interesting life Theresa, I enjoyed looking through your Spanish blog, I can really relate to your fascination with what shares your space.
I do hope you have a pair! I love robins in the garden. When we first were feeding the birds over here the robin tried to defend our bird food against all comers of different species until eventually he was overcome by the sheer numbers and gave up. Amelia
I can imagine the scene Amelia! Your garden must have a wonderful array of birds and wildlife that distract you at every turn. 🙂
I found your blog on interesting observation of the robins. Your photos are exquisite
Thanks, that’s really nice of you to say. 🙂
Lovely post, I came along and read it a couple of days ago but didn’t have time to comment then. I adore robins, the ones in our garden have always been a pair of one thin, one round and the round one has always been the female of the pair. I hope you soon see the signs of the male feeding the female. Years ago one of our visiting girl robins took to making a high pitched eeping noise to ask her other half for food and since then I’ve noticed other female robins doing this but to anyone within feeding range – including me and my husband!
Thank you Val, I shall listen out for her, that sounds a real privilege to have Robins be so confident around you, one of those very special nature moments. 🙂
The background information was really quite amazing and the photos were fabulous.
Thanks so much Charlie, I’m very glad you enjoyed my post.
Really great post and pictures. Far too early around here for nesting. We don’t have any pets these days. I thought of getting a bag of hair cuttings from the local barber but Judy said that was creepy.
Haha! Thats funny Jason!
What a treat Julie to learn so much more about your robins…we are seeing a few of ours now too!
I am glad Donna, at least some feathered friends are trying to survive the icy winter you have there.
What a wonderful story you have put together here, and I’m wishing all the best for your two little (I hope) lovebirds. So much character is such a tiny bird!
Thanks, I hope so too, today I watched a a pair of Magpie’s build their nest in a tree at the bottom of the garden, its that time of year!
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