On a cold, not-so-sunny, winter’s morning, few sights lift my spirits quite as much as a robin hopping across the garden showing off its beautiful red breast.
Now and then it’ll fly up to a post and sing its delightful song, cheering me even more. I’m a sufferer of SAD (winter depression) so when creatures great and small visit my garden they always manage to bring about a warm smile to my face, and lift those winter blues and feelings of doom and gloom. I will quickly add, I’ve been taking a regular small daily dose of Vitamin D since March: (a) I didn’t get my usual October heavy cold and cough (b) winter depression didn’t kick in during October as it usually does, but, was delayed until December. In my opinion, this supplement has certainly helped me a lot.
Robins look to us for sustenance during cold spells, as their natural food of earthworms and other invertebrates can be hard to find. We feed birds all year round making sure the wild birdseed hanging containers are always topped up. Ours are squirrel-proof! Sorry if you’re a squirrel lover!
Most gardeners will agree, robins have struck up an extraordinary relationship with humans and will boldly perch on a bucket edge or spade handle ready to pick up worms that have been unearthed. They have such pretty eyes. These little birds are fearsome fighters with glorious voices and which, all too often, have a sadly short lifespan. They readily chase off blackbirds, sparrows, and tantalise my 2 cocker spaniels by hopping along the six foot tall wooden fence ~ chase me, why don’t you! My dogs love the banter too.
Our love of robins and habit of feeding them in our gardens goes back a rather long way according to legend.
Back in the sixth century, Saint Serf of Fife (most famous for slaying a dragon terrorising people near Loch Lomond) was apparently the first person to start feeding them.. His friends were so jealous they killed the bird, but fortunately it was brought back to life. I love a good ending, don’t you?
Stories about feeding robins are common because they are legendary for their tameness, and one of the few wild birds that will take food from the hand. I remember way back to when I was only about five or six years old, and my dad telling me to hold out my hand keeping my palm facing upward and flat. He would then place a few wriggly mealworms onto my hand. Well, as a little girl who loved to play in the dirt and have a strange fascination for huge long fat worms, that wasn’t a problem at all. I still rescue worms in the garden when they stray onto the patio. Yep, I pick them up by my fingers just as I did as a child and carefully put them back onto the garden. Some things never change. Teaching children to be kind to animals as well as creatures great and small was instilled into me at a very young age. My older brother would often rescue a frozen blackbird and bring it into the warm kitchen. Mother would make it a bed of straw or newspaper inside a cardboard box. Then, using a small glass dropper that she normally kept for putting olive oil into our ears to soften ear wax, she carefully applied a single drop of my dad’s best Christmas brandy onto its frozen beak. In no time at all, it’s eyes would open. Lastly, it’s wings would begin to thaw. I would always watch from afar: the bird would then hop round the warm kitchen delighted to be still alive. Only when it had thawed out fully would it be allowed back outside. The following day, we would do the same rescue for a frozen thrush or blackbird. I was five, and my brother would have been about eight at the time.
In the Twenties, former Foreign Secretary Edward Grey taught a robin to take food from his hand. He wrote about it in a best-seller, The Charm of Birds.
Recently, naturalist Hugh Warwick hand-tamed a robin in a few days. After a while, the bird would even come inside his home to beg for food, making him wonder who was in charge in their relationship. I could never do that…my eldest cocker spaniel is a bird fancier for all the wrong reasons!
We English love our robins. Two years ago it won a BBC television Springwatch poll to choose the UK’s national bird.
Robins used to nest in our evergreen holly bush, back in the fifties when I was a small child.
Another reason we connect robins with Christmas is that the early postmen wore red uniforms, and so were nicknamed ‘robins’. Anyone old enough to remember that? And, as the cards pop through your letter box over the coming days, note how many feature a robin! There are more than 300 different species in the family of birds known as old-world flycatchers and chats, including the redstart and the nightingale.
Like its cousin, the nightingale, robins often sing at night – especially in cities, where permanently lit street lamps fool them into thinking the sun is about to rise.
I see robins everywhere: especially in my beautiful Devon garden.
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