With its gorgeous red waistcoat and melodic song the Robin is one of our most common and easily recognised garden bird.
Despite their seemingly friendly nature Robins are highly territorial, aggressive and fierce fighters, willing to battle with rival birds to the death to defend their territory; females are just as aggressive as the males. To defend their territory, both males and females will fight and sing almost all year round. The female defends her own territory in autumn and winter, then the territory she shares with her mate in spring and summer. They use their vivid breasts as threat displays to scare away intruding birds.
For the males their territory is the place to attract mates. In late December, they begin to sing loudly to attract females. It is the female who chooses her mate and she may visit a number of different territories before making her choice. The instinct to defend their own territory is so strong that there’s usually a brief fight between male and female before he accepts her presence. The two birds then share the territory while the male courts the female by repeatedly feeding her. Initially, they do not spend much time together, merely tolerate one another, but will remain together until the following autumn moult.
The Robin’s song is high, clear and varied, with trills and sweet wistful notes. They can usually be heard singing their melodious warbling song from strategic perches, often quite high up; it sounds like ‘twiddle-oo, twiddle-eedee, twiddle-oo twiddle’. In the winter, it can sound wistful, some say mournful, but around Christmas the song becomes stronger and more passionate. Robins are rarely seen or heard during midsummer (July-August) when they are moulting and become rather retiring.
Robins will sing all through the night and this often leads to them being incorrectly identified as a Nightingale. Streetlights were thought to be the cause making them believe it was still daytime, but the latest theory is that they are singing when it is quieter, when the hubbub of urban life has quietened and their song can be heard.
The Robin's diet is principally insects and worms, which it will normally catch by snatching its prey on the ground after watching for movement from a perch above. Historically they used to follow foraging animals such as wild boars as they dug through the soil. The birds would hop down to pick up any insects and grubs that were uncovered by the animals’ digging. Today they follow gardeners as they dig over the soil. As well as insects and worms, Robins also eat seeds and fruits. At bird tables they will take chopped meat, fat and cheese. They also have a sweet tooth and often take cake, especially coconut cake, fruit cake and uncooked pastry.
British Robins are mostly sedentary though a few migrate to Spain and Portugal for the winter. Juveniles disperse from their natal sites in May but very rarely move further than a few miles.