For our final species spotlight of the year I thought we’d be a little different and have a look at one of our wild birds, who has also come to symbolise Christmas
Not to be confused with the American Robin, our European Robin is a common sight up and down the UK. They are found throughout Europe as far as Siberia and are also present in Northern Africa. They are favourite for the currently ongoing vote to find an official National Bird for the UK. Their wild population is of least concern, with at least 6.7 million pairs in the UK alone.
Robins are a member of the chat family, which includes other UK members such as the Stonechat & Whinchat. These were considered to be an offshoot of the Thrushes but are now believed to be more similar to Flycatchers. Most ‘British’ Robins are resident all year though some may move south to Spain during the winter. In turn, we get some Scandinavian birds moving in at that time
One of their old names is Robin Redbreast and it is obvious to see why. The red breast is present in both sexes, who look alike. Body length is around 14cm with a wingspan on 20cm. They weigh no more than around 16-22 grams.
They are largely diurnal, meaning that they are active during the day. They can be active at night, singing and feeding from the glow of street lights. They will eat seeds, fruits & insects but one of their favourite foods is worms, making them a common and friendly visitor to the garden. Many Robins will become confident enough to take food from the hand and we have a couple of tame(ish) birds who will happily sit on the keepers food barrows looking for scraps.
Males are highly aggressive when defending a territory, for which they sing to proclaim. Other males entering the territory will be attacked and attacks can be fatal. Robins do not pair for life but just for the season. Males start to sing properly in January, with breeding occurring from March onwards. Nests are built in a range of places and anywhere that provides some shelter. I have had them nesting at home in a watering can (shows how often I water the garden!) and they successfully reared young in our leaf sweeper, used at least 3 times a week
A cup nest is built using leaves, mosses, grasses and animal hair and is built by the female only. The male then supplies her with food which is vital as studies have shown a complete clutch of eggs may account for as much as 90% of the females body weight. 4-6 eggs are laid and are generally whiteish in colour with brown/red speckles. Incubation lasts for 13 days and is conducted by the female only. She may eat the hatched egg shell for extra calcium. The chicks hatch naked and are completely reliant on both parents for food, they will fledge at a fortnight old. Mortality in the first year is high
Robins are well known in UK folklore. The red breast was said to be from Jesus, where the bird sat on his shoulder and sang to comfort him whilst on the cross. They are a regular on Christmas cards and stamps and one theory is that the red coats of postmen back in the day became more prominent during Christmas, with all the cards to post and they were also called red-breasts. closer to home, Robins are the emblem and nickname of Cheltenham Town FC
In park news it has been fairly quiet this week
A fifth Emu egg was laid yesterday and is in the incubator
The King Penguin chick is now down to one feed a day (11am if you are visiting and it is dry)
The Caribbean Flamingos have the starts of 3 nest mounds being made out of leaves
We are very much in the Christmas mode with food deliveries received until the new year and we are going to be chopping extra fruit ready for the big day so myself and Tom won’t be in all day.
Wildlife wise there has been a lot of Geese (all Canada) flying over again this week. Treecreeper has been seen and the feeders are being regularly visited by a wide range of species
For next weeks blog I will review the year that was 2014, so we will see you then
Have a very Merry Christmas one and all