Robins in Cumbria

(April 25, 2019)


Our garden seems to have been at the junction of three robin territories in recent years, which has provided the opportunity to get some close up photos of one brood of two juvenile robins as their plumage changed in the weeks after fledging. The sequence below taken in 2005 shows the gradual development of feathers to give the familiar robin plumage.

During this time, our particular favourite made several visits each day to collect a beakful of worms to take back to another brood. Four different individuals were taking mealworms from the hand at this stage, but the one feeding young always made sure it got priority! It would land on the conservatory window and tick, but if we took no notice she flew to the back door and landed on the door handle – so she became known to us as Dora! As soon as the young fledged, she disappeared (at the beginning of August) for a week, causing us some concern. When she reappeared for a couple of weeks she was obviously undergoing the summer moult and was without tail, but happily posed for a photo (see below). We didn’t see her again until, four months later during a spell of freezing weather, the same bird suddenly appeared at the back door (now looking very smart) and, without hesitation, began taking food from the hand and living up to her name by sitting on the door handle to gain our attention – clearly a bird with a good memory!

In June 2006 the same situation occurred with three birds feeding young from neighbouring territories. There was a definite pecking order, with the older bird dominant. The second in line would wait patiently and dash in as soon as the first flew off, otherwise it would be attacked. To make sure it got it’s fill it would quickly grab four or five mealworms, jumping into the dish if it wasn’t getting them fast enough by hand. The third, rather timid bird, would only take mealworms from a hand held on the wall, it wasn’t confident enough (or desperate enough) to fly straight on the hand.

Feeding robins in this way is very rewarding but we were always careful to limit quantities to treats so they had plenty of time to forage themselves. First thing in the morning (6 or 7 a.m. in summer!) was a popular time and we felt it gave them a start to the day before it warmed up. A moment of exhilaration came on July 12th when Dora and partner brought two recently fledged chicks to be fed at the back door.

As usual the Robins dispersed in October 2006 and we didn’t see our favourite bird again until February 6th 2007 when it buzzed me in the garden and flew to its perch on the fence by the back door. It promptly dropped straight onto my hand when I produced some mixed food, where it stayed for some time picking out all the pin oats! Quite a feat of memory.

June. “I’ll do anything to
feed my chicks”
August. “I just can’t find anything decent
to wear these days”
September. “Is my breakfast
ready yet?”
February: “It’s a bit parky today – any
mealworms going?”
February. “Come on, be quick,
it’s raining”
March. “Thank goodness you’ve still
got some left”
July. “Dare I?”
July. “Yes, it was worth it !”
Late July. “This moulting business is hard work”
August. “Please………”
June: “Can I squeeze another one in…?”