Robins - How you can help these most charming of birds
With Advent well underway, the thoughts of most of us will be turning towards Christmas cards and making sure they're all in the post in time for the big day. And it's fair to say that many of those cards will feature pictures of Robins, that most quintessential of winter creatures, with which to delight our nearest and dearest.
If you've got Robins in your garden, now is a great time to take extra care of them so they will continue to return for years to come. With this in mind, here's our guide to looking after your Robins this season - and beyond.
Robins were voted Britain's favourite bird in 1966, and thanks to this and their distinctive plumage, most people will have no trouble identifying them.
However, contrary to popular belief, males and females are identical with their orange-red breasts and brown backs - it is young birds that are speckled golden brown all over and don't have the bold colouring.
You'll be able to see robins year-round, which debunks another popular misconception: that robins only appear around Christmas. This error may come about because the birds tend to be quieter in the summer months when they are moulting - although gardeners will know they're still there, perching on spade handles and keeping us company.
Also, resident populations are boosted by immigrants from Scandinavia and elsewhere in the winter to stay for the season, as well as a few passing through on their way to northern Africa, which may explain the confusion.
Robins can be identified if you can't see them by their song - alarm calls are a rapid 'tick, tick, tick', while their usual tune is a melodious warbling in a higher pitch than a blackbird.
What do robins eat?
If the weather is particularly cold and snowy, it is good to give your robins an additional helping hand food-wise to prevent population levels suffering. They tend to prefer foraging on the ground, so a bird feeder that can be placed in a safe place at ground level (or a bird table) is ideal. Robins like to eat worms, insects, seeds and fruits and they guard the areas in which these can be found fiercely, although males and females usually do pair up to share at this time of year.
When feeding, aim to emulate their natural diet by feeding protein-rich mealworms, energy-rich seeds and soft fruits. Our robin blend will take the guesswork out of this, plus you can also treat them with our Peanut Cakes.
How can I help breeding robins?
If the weather is especially warm, robins may start courting as early as January, but this has been quite rare in recent years and March onwards is more typical.
The birds pair up and the female builds the nest and lays the eggs. Robins have been known to nest in some very unusual places - including old footballs - but you can increase their chances of success and prevent predation using a nest box with a wide opening.
Again, provide plenty of supplementary food, as the male will need to supply his mate with lots of nourishment during this period and it's best to help him avoid having to fly too far.
Both parents will look after the chicks in their nest, while they fledge at just 14 days and remain dependent on their fathers for food for almost a month - the mothers are off to prepare for another brood. Any seed you can put out is therefore likely to be gratefully received, but they will be especially pleased with live mealworms.
As you can see, there are lots of simple steps you can take to help the robins in your garden - and you'll be richly rewarded by the chance to observe these cheeky, beautiful birds up close as they get used to your presence. If you get a photo, perhaps it could even make a personalised Christmas card for someone next year.