A Smaller Mum...

Young Robins in the nest outside of our office

The entrance path to the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary is a busy one, host to the daily comings and goings of both staff and the increasing number of visitors we see as summer approaches. Alongside this is a small seating area where the staff take a breather and behind this - quite oblivious to the hustle & bustle of the nearby goings on - is where a robin has chosen to raise her brood of six young chicks!

Ma Robin was first spotted sitting motionless on her nest in the open-fronted birdbox, placed there more in hope than expectation by staff members Anna and Andrew and who have kept a watchful & protective eye on her ever since. Now the young birds are nearly ready to fledge as they have most of their feathers, but their bright yellow ' gapes' can easily still be seen, even from a distance.

The 'gape' is an important part of a garden bird chick, as the larger they can open their beak, the more food the mother can pop into it! Feeding time is a frenzy of activity when Mum returns with food, each chick competing to receive as much as possible from the parent by opening their beaks wide to display their hunger. Usually the diligent parents make sure there's enough to go round. Robins primarily feed on worms and insects and likes nothing better than following a gardner, waiting for the earth to be turned to reveal a favorite treat. In the wild, Robins have been been witnessed following around large animals for much the same reason - even Wild Boar as they root around turning leaf litter and earth!

Male and female Robins look very similar and at first glance look exactly the same - it can take an ornithological expert to determine the difference! Both sexes are extremely territorial and will defend their feeding sites vigorously. By Christmas many will already have paired, but they spend little time together, merely 'getting along'. They remain with one another until the Autumn moult, they become very scarce and not often heard. Robins favour open fronted nest boxes or holes in trees or garden walls. Unfortunately the Robin has a short life expectancy of only just over a year.

The Robin is a well-known bird to anyone who spends time in the garden and this little brown bird with its bright red breast is familiar to even the youngest child as they recognise them as the birds most often seen on Christmas cards. The association with Christmas has many origins. Legend has it that when Jesus was dying on the cross the Robin - then simply brown in colour - flew to his side and sang into his ear in order to comfort him in his pain: as he did so, the blood from his wounds stained the Robin's breast. However, the association of the Robin with Christmas more probably arises from the fact that postmen in Victorian Britain wore red uniforms and were nicknamed "Robins"; the robin featured on the Christmas card is an emblem of the postman delivering the card.

Robins are also associated with Christmastime because that's the time of year when young robins are amongst the most vociferous of garden birds as they defend their breeding and nesting territories. In some cities the Robin can be heard singing right through the night and is often mistaken for the Nightingale.