Wildlife Wednesday – Love is in the Air for Territorial Robins

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.

Rotund Robin

Rotund Robin (Erithacus rubecula) who we hope 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!

Alert Svelte Robin

Svelte looking alert.

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.


The newcomer turning tail on puffed up Svelte

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.

An angry Robin

Making his presence known

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.

Robins maybe partial threat?

Is this just a partial threat?

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.

Robin Feeding alongside the Bluetits

Feeding alongside the Bluetits

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.

Svelte Robin and log

Svelte looking trim

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

  1. 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!

  2. 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!

    • 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!

    • 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!

  3. 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. 🙂

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. 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 😀

    • 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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!

  11. 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!
    – Kate

    • 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. 🙂

  12. 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.

  13. 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

  14. 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. 🙂

  15. 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.

  16. Pingback: Wildlife Wednesday – All Creatures Great and Small | Gardening Jules

  17. Pingback: Wildlife Wednesday – Love is in the Air for Territorial Robins – LOVEBIRDS

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