Country Diary: Friendly bird who is highly territorial

Robins will display their red breasts vigorously to any intruders.

“The north wind doth blow, and we shall have snow,

And what will the robin do then, poor thing?”

Strolling along a quiet, local lane, my attention was caught by the ‘tic-tic-tic’ of a robin. Sure enough, there he was in the hedgerow, awaiting my departure. Robins are highly territorial and will display their red breasts vigorously to any intruders.

The robin must be familiar to everyone. I must say most of the Christmas card we’ve sent to friends and relative have carried the cheerful, perky little chap that visits our garden.

Greetings cards became popular in the 1860s, at a time when postmen wore red tunics and were know as ‘robins’. I’m sure many of us have had a cheeky robin waiting on the spade handle for a worm to be tossed to him. Robins are particularly fond of mealworms and can become quite tame if hand fed with them, although they’re mainly insectivorous. Although bold and friendly, it can be quite a nasty piece of work, particularly when defending its home.

Robins may live to be 10 years old, but sadly less than a quarter of robins live beyond their first birthday. Cats are perhaps their greatest enemy, and of course the ever-increasing volume of traffic. Sadly, both take a heavy toll.

Keeping warm in winter is a problem we all share, donning extra clothing to help keep out the cold air. Robins keep warm by fluffing out their feathers to help retain body heat.

Robins will now be pairing up as they usually do between the end of December and early March. The female chases a male until she is accepted. When once paired, the male feeds her as part of courtship.

Relatives in Christchurch, Dorset, spend a lot of time feeding the birds, foxes and hedgehogs. They wrote to say that one day they had over 50 redwings in the garden which stripped the holly tree of its berries. We have seen very few so far this year.

What we have found recently are footprints. Any snow showers have revealed fox tracks up the crescent in typical single line. Sometimes they wander around garden borders.

We’ve long suspected badgers too, and sure enough in the flower borders were distinct, deep footprints in the soft moist earth.

Unfortunately we daren’t put out any food to tempts them, as terrier Tigger would certainly consume it if the fox and badger failed to locate it! Then again, feeding wildlife naturally encourages rats – as can be observed near the jetty at Seamer Road mere. One has to consider the pros and cons of helping local wildlife during the bleak days of winter, and devise safe methods of ensuring food is placed as appropriate.

Please keep up the good work, and a Happy New Year to everyone.

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