Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Robins: gardeners' friends

Oh yes, we all love the little robin, cheeky, cheery little friend to the gardener. Erithacus rubecula, if we are being formal. They are very bold, and will approach very close to us humans, often perching on our wheelbarrows or tools.

We interpret this behaviour as being friendly,  but all they really want is for us to get digging! Apparently, in days past, robins used to follow the wild boar as they snouted around in the woodlands of Merrie England, disturbing the ground and revealing food for the robins.

So they see me as a glorified, upright, inefficient boar. Hmmm. Somewhat less than flattering.

At this time of year, early March, they are thinking about nesting, so instead of seeing them singly, I am starting to see them in pairs. They mate for the season (not for life) and are extremely territorial: all that cheerful singing starts as "Hey darlin', get it here!" then turns to "She/He's mine! Bog off!"

I remember some years ago hearing Bill Oddie tell the story of the time he made a stuffed model of a robin and nailed it to a fence. The garden's robin came along to investigate, sang to it, sidled up to it, and then viciously attacked it, ripping it to pieces. Must try that, some time, just to see if it's true.

Anyway, there I was, hard at work digging out some lovely stuff from the compost bins, ready for spreading, when I heard the familiar tuneful tweeting of a robin. As usual, I look all around - up, down, left, right, up again, down again, round again - before spotting one of them sitting in a nearby tree branch. "Hallo, chirpy!" I say brightly. This is my standard greeting for robins. I live in hope that they will learn to recognise my "song". (although I feel it's unlikely...)

More tweeting - oh, there's a pair of them. Within seconds, they are sitting on the wall of the compost bin, only a couple of feet away, and looking expectantly at me.  It took them less than half a wheelbarrow's worth of digging for greed to overcome caution, and there they were, inside the bin with me, picking up little bugs and small worms revealed by my digging.

This shows how close they will get:

... and this is not a tame robin from my own garden, one that knows me - it's just a robin from a garden in which I work.

I was very tempted to put a worm on the top of my boot, to see if I could lure one onto my foot for a photo, but I am paid to work, so there isn't really the time to experiment with them!

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