Robins: Our winter favourite
Sarah Buckingham at Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust looks at our favourite winter feathered friend – the robin...
IN the cold days of mid-winter is there anything better than the sight of a robin, red breast radiant against the perfect backdrop of brilliant fresh snowfall? Millions of Christmas cards are sent every year with this most seasonal of images. Robins are one of our most familiar and ubiquitous birds. In the last survey of Hertfordshire, they were confirmed to be breeding in 91% of the survey squares – and probably breeding in the rest.
Keep off my patch
Robins are highly territorial birds and, during the winter, they will defend the feeding opportunities in gardens against almost any other bird that comes close. That bright red breast is their prime territorial marker – research filmed for television has even shown robins attacking toys with red breasts, such is their overwhelming instinct to see off other robins in their patch. Whilst singing reaches a peak as the breeding season approaches, robins will warble throughout the year as they mark these temporary territories. During this time of the year they can become very tame with birds sometimes even feeding from the hand.
The robin’s natural habitat is woodland but they have adopted town parks and residential gardens, where the structure provided by ornamental planting provides both nesting and roosting opportunities. Perhaps the greatest asset of town living is the abundance of food provided by us. Their natural food is dominated by insects with fruit and seeds in winter but prolonged snowy weather can make life very difficult for robins to find food. If you want to help your local robins at such times, it’s best to provide similar items to their usual foods. Scattering mealworms, raisins and pinhead oats underneath bushes or other cover will help these birds through the winter months. Alternatively, hanging a fat ball low down, close to cover will provide robins and other birds such as dunnocks with a perfect supplement to the food they garner through their natural foraging activities.
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Five things you might not know about robins
• Both male and female robins are identical.
• Sometimes robins will sing at night, next to street lights, and are often confused with nightingales as a result.
• Outside of the breeding season, both males and females sing to defend their individual territories.
• Robins from Scandinavia and Russia will come to Britain in the winter, to avoid harsh weather further north.
• Older English names for the robin include Ruddock and Robinet.
How to spot WINTER BIRDS
Winter is a great time to do a bit of twitching! Here are some top tips.
1 Attract birds to your gardenPutting a bird feeder in your garden will help attract different species. A bird bath is a good idea too. You are likely to get robins, great tits, blue tits, sparrows and blackbirds. Look out for the odd unusual visitor: redwings, waxwings, fieldfares, black caps and nuthatches. Use our handy Garden Wildlife guide to help you identify different species:http://www.hertswildlifetrust.org.uk/shop/gardenwildlifeguide.htm
2 Visit a nature reserveMany birds come to stay in the UK for the winter, so it’s a good time to get out there and see what you can find. Take a good guide with you, like the handy A6-sized New Holland Concise Bird Guide, which has over 250 species listed and great illustrations. Don’t forget your binoculars! You might see lapwing, snipe or if you are lucky, a bittern on one of our wetland nature reserves.
3 Be a duck detectiveThere are lots of different water birds and Hertfordshire is a great place to spot some of them. Try Amwell Nature Reserve. How many different ducks can you detect? Use our special spotting sheet to help you:http://www.hertswildlifetrust.org.uk/Wildlife/Winter+wildlife
4 Choose a good spotMake good use of bird hides at our nature reserves, wrap up warm and be as quiet as you can. Tewinbury Nature Reserve next to Tewin Bury Farm Hotel has a fantastic two storey bird hide – sometimes it only takes five minutes of sitting in the hide to spot the blue flash of a kingfisher. Large flocks of siskins gather in the tops of the alder trees in winter.
5 For a full list of nature reservesthat are good for birdwatching, go to www.hertswildlifetrust.org.uk
Winter Birds in Ware, Saturday 21 January, Ware.
Test your identification skills with a walk round King’s Meads Nature Reserve to see the winter birds. Meet at 10am at the Windsor Industrial Estate, Ware Road – between the viaduct and Chadwell Springs golf course. 10 to 11.30am. Contact the Trust to book on 01727 858901 or visit hertswildlifetrust.org.uk
The Great Sunday Roost: Herts Bittern Day, Sunday January 15, Stanstead Abbotts.
Join the Trust’s Conservation Manager, Tim Hill, to search for the elusive bittern at Amwell Nature Reserve. There will be a guided walk to tell you about bitterns and their habitats, followed by a dusk watch to look for birds as they go to roost. Remember to wrap up warm and bring binoculars if you have them. Booking essential – call 01727 858901.