Friday, 30 March 2012

A careful nester

Even though she does not know that I have worked out where her nest is, this Robin is taking no chances. If she happens to see me pass near the window she immediately drops the piece of leaf, grass or plant stem that she is carrying. Such is the way with Robins when nest building; ever alert, they pause a little way from the nest and scan for potential danger before moving towards it. If they feel unsure then they will drop what they are carrying or even attempt to lead you away from the nest.

I had found the nest yesterday, a base of leaves placed untidily towards the top of a climbing honeysuckle. It was easy enough to spot, the ‘wrong sort of leaves’ in a climber to which they did not belong. Without approaching any closer I left the nest alone, knowing that all I needed to do was sit inside the house and watch. Soon after, the Robin appeared. Furtive and without any nesting material, it flew in briefly as if to check the nest remained untouched. A few minutes later and it was back, leaf in bill, to continue the process of nest construction. This process would extend over several days, the final act the lining with finer material. With luck, the eggs would follow one per day and then the female would begin incubation.

Robins tend to nest fairly low down, typically below two metres, but the wide variety of nest sites used can make finding their nests difficult. The nest may be hidden in a pile of dead vegetation, be tucked away in a bank or nestled within some object hanging inside an old shed or outbuilding. They will also take to open-fronted nest boxes provided they are placed within suitable cover or nest in the leaf litter of a woodland floor. Although the nests are well hidden they may still be the target of nest predators. The other summer, we lost one nest to the local Badgers, the irony being that the Robins had used Badger hair in the nest lining.

These are surprisingly aggressive and territorial birds and a nesting pair will not tolerate the presence of other Robins within the breeding territory. Sometimes this aggression spills over onto other species, with the superficially similar-looking Dunnock often the unfortunate victim of this seemingly random violence. It strikes me as rather odd that a bird as confiding as a Robin – I have one that often joins me when I am turning over the vegetable beds – should be both so secretive and so aggressive. Such traits do deliver a bird with real character and it is easy to see why we have taken it to our hearts.

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