Monday, 18 December 2017

Irish Garden Birds - Rockin' Robins

This blog was originally published in December 2017.

Ok, as of today we're in Week 3 of the Irish Garden Bird Survey - hopefully you've got a couple of weeks of the survey under your belt at this stage, but if not there's still time to take part! 

Given the week that's in it, there was only bird that could be species of the week.... 

Species Profile: Robin

As Gaeilge: 'Spideog' 

Irish Garden Bird Survey Ranking 2016/17: 1st place

Conservation status: Green-listed in Ireland, with around 3 million pairs breeding here each summer.

Robin. Photo by B. Burke

Did You know?

  • Though we are used to Robins that are quite confident and confiding around humans in the garden, that's only the case in Ireland and the UK. Elsewhere in Europe, Robins are often quite shy and are a true woodland bird.
  • Robins are the only bird you're likely to hear singing all year round, and both males and females will sing outside the breeding season. 

  • When it comes to singing, Robins are usually one of the first species to start singing in the morning and one of the last ones to stop. Where there is artificial light from buildings and street lamps, they can be heard singing during the night.

  • Robins have more than one brood per year, and in some cases the male can be feeding the first brood while the female is incubating the second clutch!

  • Their latin name is Erithacus rubecula - meaning 'solitary little red one' - very apt! 

  • Their territoriality really does come down to them 'seeing red' - the red colour of other Robins is largely what triggers their aggression, and they've been known to attack objects like socks and handkerchiefs with a similar red colour during the breeding season. When Robin chicks fledge, they have a speckled brown appearance, but no red yet, which stops them getting into a fight when they wander into an adult's territory! 
Adult and fledgling Robin. Photo by C. Timmons

Robin. Photo by B. Burke

How long do they live?

The oldest known Robin in Ireland and Britain was 8 years, 4 months and 30 days old, but their typical lifespan is only 2 years - much shorter than people think. Incredibly, the oldest Robin in Europe was over 19 years old, ringed in the Czech Republic and killed in Poland.

What do they feed on? 

As a traditional woodland bird their preference is for insects to feed on, but they will readily come to bird feeders with seeds, peanuts, fruit and fat balls. Mealworms are a good food to give them, and some people have managed to 'train' their garden Robin to take mealworms from their hand!

Irish Garden Bird Survey Trends:

Robins have been in 1st place in 19 of the 23 winters since the Garden Bird Survey has taken place in its current format, twice in joint-first with Blackbird. In three winters, most recently in 2009/10, they were in second place behind Blackbird. In 1997/98 Robin was in third place behind both Blackbird and Blue Tit - their lowest position to date, but still firmly in the top 3 and still in over 99% of gardens - a pretty dominant record over the years! 

Robin. Photo by D. Owens

They're common in gardens throughout the full 13 weeks of the garden bird survey (i.e. Dec-Feb), with a slight increase as the weeks go on. It's likely that by the latter weeks of the Garden Bird Survey many Robins have paired up and are thinking of breeding, so that's another reason why you're probably only seeing one Robin in your garden at the start of the survey but are regularly seeing two by February.

This graph shows the average number of Robins per garden during each year of the Irish garden bird survey – a pretty stable trend down through the years, with occasional spikes in numbers after a good season (they can be pretty prolific breeders when the weather allows!)

Movements and Migration:

In Ireland, Robins are largely resident. In general the males will stay put all year round to hold their territory, and many females will leave the breeding areas in the autumn and return in spring. The females don't usually travel very far, but will seek out an area with higher survival chances (i.e. good food supply, warmer temperatures etc) but that maybe wasn't suitable during the summer as they lacked sites for nesting. A very small minority of Robins, largely female, may also move abroad for the winter.
We also get Robins from northern Europe; some moving through in autumn on their way further south in Europe, and others staying put for the winter. 

Robins from Britain & Ireland caught elsewhere.

How can I help Robins?

It's worth remembering that this is actually a good time of year to put out nestboxes in advance of next year! Robins use a specific type of nextbox with an open-front, ideally 1-2m off the ground and placed in a dense shrub or somewhere else that provides shelter from weather and predators - amongst thick ivy or creeping plants should also work. Wrens and Pied Wagtails might also decide to use this type of nestbox, or Blackbirds if the nestbox is big enough.

You can find designs to build your own nestbox on the BirdWatch Ireland website here, or alternatively we sell a number of different types of nestboxes in our shop that are sure to suit your garden – see our selection here.

Robin. Photo by K. Murphy
Given their dominance at the top of the Irish Garden Bird Survey charts every year, it's no surprise that Robins are more than happy to avail of a variety of foods supplied in gardens - mealworms, peanuts, seeds, fruit and fatballs. 

Singing Robin Soft Toy

This year we also have the very popular singing Robin soft toy! They're soft and cuddly and play a Robin call when you squeeze them! Get them at our shop at the link below, while stocks last.

We have a variety of pin badges in our shop, including two christmas Robins - the suggested donation for a pin badge is €2 each, plus €1 p&p - or 3 for €5. We have pin badges of many different species (swans, owls, garden birds, ducks, seabirds etc!). 

Call into our shop in Wicklow or get in touch at to see if we have your favourite species in stock!

Lastly, to help Robins and your other garden birds you can become a member of BirdWatch Ireland. Membership makes an ideal Christmas gift – one that keeps on giving throughout the year.
With your membership pack you'll get a free gift, a poster of Irish Garden Birds, a poster of Irish Sea Birds, a pin badge, loads of information on how to attract birds to your garden, and our famous Wings magazine will be delivered to your door four times per year. 

Under 18's and family memberships will also receive our 'Bird Detectives' activity magazine twice a year, filled with fun and educational activities!

I hope you've learned something new about Robins through this species profile - if there's a species you'd like us to cover later in the winter please let us know on facebook or twitter!

And if you're not taking part already, consider taking part in our Garden Bird Survey this winter - and spread the word to friends and family - the more the merrier! 

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