Has anyone heard birds singing before dawn and wondered what they were, as in December most birds are not singing? Well, it is probably the robin (Erithacus rubecula), one of the few birds that sing throughout the year, not only during the day but also at night.
Both female and male robins sing, and the song changes with the season. In spring the song is assertive and bubbly, triggered by the increasing day length late in December. However, even artificial lighting can trigger singing during darkness. During the moult in early autumn individuals stop singing, focussing their energy on growing new plumage and staying safely hidden. Autumn song begins post moult, and tends to sound more melancholy.
UK robins rarely move more than about 3 miles from where they were born, so territory is really important to them. When robins sing they are informing other robins that this is their patch, and also to attract a mate. So keep out, they are warning! The red breast evolved purely for territory defence, and even inanimate red objects can trigger defensive behaviour. Robins can be quite aggressive with each other, battling over territory, to the extent that, according to research, almost 10% of robin deaths are as a result of fighting each other. They have good reason to identify their boundaries, as the robin population here increases considerably during the winter months. This influx of overseas robins can be tracked using migration studies. These show that the majority come from Scandinavia when it becomes too cold for them there.
Native robins exhibit an affinity with humans and can become very tame, especially with gardeners, being always after a dug up easy meal. Their diet includes soil invertebrates, insects, seeds and fruit. They are also well-known for making nests in boots, coat pockets in sheds, old kettles, hanging baskets and even car engines.
The robins which come to our milder climate have a slightly duller breast colour and do not exhibit the tameness of native robins. In Scandinavia they are primarily woodland birds and are not necessarily familiar with humans, so are wary of us and rapidly fly off if disturbed.
Upcoming Wild Roseland Walks and Talks
Wild Roseland’s next events are in January. Provisionally: a Constructing Homes for Nature practical workshop; secondly, an outdoor event, weather permitting, identifying Mosses and Liverworts in Veryan Churchyard. Final details for each event will be published in the next edition.
Thank you for all the support you have given to Wild Roseland by attending our programme of talks, or in any other way.
Things you can do for Roseland Nature:
Record your wildlife sightings!
The Roseland area is under-recorded for its wildlife flora and fauna and we need more records. You can easily record single wildlife sightings in the Wildlife Trusts ORKS database online here. You can also complete an ORCS data form for multiple records here.
The ORKS recording app makes collecting and submitting wildlife sightings while you’re out exploring quick and easy, even without a mobile signal. The ORKS App is available for free download on iPhone and Android.
All data gets added to the National Biodiversity Network database, making it retrievable by anyone interested in doing research, locally, nationally or internationally.
Article by David Hall. Images by Sarah Vandome.
Edited by Sarah Vandome.
Wild Roseland is a group of volunteers who care passionately about looking after the nature and landscape of the Roseland peninsula in south Cornwall. Through a number of initiatives and projects, the aim is to inspire and enhance the conservation of this special place for all.
References and links
RSPB (2018) Robin Redbreast Song. Available here
RSPB (2018) Territory. Available here
Svenson, L, Mullarney, K, & Zetterstrom, D (2009) Collins Bird Guide. 2nd Ed. Harper-Collins. London.
Wild Roseland – http://www.wildroseland.org/
Enjoy more Roseland wildlife and landscapes – visit Sarah Vandome’s Heart of Roseland Facebook feature:
Wild Roseland is on Facebook.