What do they eat?
From the shape of its bill it is clear that the robin favours invertebrate food. I recall being very pleased to identity a silver wave moth in a birch tree in my garden, returning to the kitchen, and watching a robin eat the moth as it fluttered from branch to branch…it must have been watching. Likewise they regularly accompany me on the allotment when I am turning soil over and seem to like the smaller kinds of earthworm. Having said that, robins are opportunistic and will certainly take sunflower hearts, fats, peanuts and whatever else you put out as bird food.
Where do they breed?
Robins have two broods per year, between March and July, with up to 5 eggs in each. They nest on or near the ground in confined quiet spots which form a suitable cavity or in shrubs, sometimes holes in banks and stumps. These places include the pocket of a gardener's coat, boots and old kettles. They will use an open-fronted nest box.
What do they do?
These are probably the most obviously territorial birds in the garden. Robins like to sit on a prominent perch about 2.5 to 3.5m above the ground, where they keep an eye on other birds. They certainly react to other robins, sitting more upright with breast puffed out and tail cocked high, lifting their bill to reveal the full red throat and breast. They will actively chase off any other robins (apart from their mate) and indeed will go for other birds which vaguely resemble them in shape and size – eg dunnocks.
Robins were the archetypal bird for territorial studies in the 20th Century, and David Lack’s book ‘The Life of the Robin’ first published in the 1943 is a classic of natural history literature. Read Lack’s book and you will find watching robins becomes even more entertaining and interesting!
In winter British and Irish robins tend stay put near their breeding territories, with some moving south and west. Large numbers of Eurasian birds cross the North Sea and move through Britain before leaving for Southern Europe.
How are they doing?
The BTO Breeding Bird Survey for 2019 suggests a long term increase in robin numbers in the UK, although it seems to have levelled off in the last decade or so. At present there are thought to be 6 million territories.
Finding out more:
Lack, David (1943 and later) The Life of the Robin. Various editions and publishers
Moss, Stephen (2017) The Robin: a Biography. Square Peg : Penguin Random House
Page written by Roy Smith, compiled by Steve Head