The robin finds a lucky mate

As breeding season gets into full swing, the birds show us some of their quirks

The female robin waits for her gift of wormsThe robin, which has been visiting us for almost four years now, has finally introduced a mate. It may be that he's had a mate in previous years, but if so we haven't seen her and he's never taken any worms to give her, as male birds often do during the mating season.

This has changed. For the past couple of weeks, he's been coming into the garage to eat a few worms himself before gathering two or three and flying away with them. Luckily for us, his mate either waits in the Pyracantha hedge or in the lime tree on the other side of the wall so we've been able to see what goes on.

Being in the habit of coming to us for mealworms, the male is now eagerly offering his mate worms, seemingly at every opportunity, coming to the bowl several times in quick succession and flying off to stuff them into her beak. She's a fortunate robin and we're curious to see when the young ones will appear, especially as the RSPB say that the male feeding the female at this time can impact on clutch size. 

A discarded song thrush egg shellElsewhere, the breeding season is in full flow. In the woods I picked up the broken shell of a song thrush (Turdus philomelos). Bright blue and speckled with dark patches, this will have been removed from the nest as soon as the young one hatched. Where they're nesting is a mystery, but it would be nice to think that one of the brash mounds in the woods has made itself attractive as a protected 'dead hedge' in which to bring up a family.

In the nearby garden I tend, the fruit cage has yet to have it' wire netting roof put on for summer and its accessibility has been taken advantage of by a female pheasant. In a slightly scruffy gap between the raspberry canes, I spy a scratched-out depression in the middle of which is a pale olive-brown egg. No doubt more will appear and I'll have to work around her and later make sure the door is left open so the chicks can get out when they're ready to fledge. 

Back at home, plants are springing into lush new growth. In the herb bed, the fresh young leaves have been noticed by a male starling (Sturnus vulgaris). He's been down a few times now and has been nipping off the new growth and carrying it away to line the nest his mate has made. Thyme, oregano and lavender are popular, while rosemary is nipped off and wastefully left behind. That was a new plant too.

I'm reminded of similar bird behaviour from about 10 years ago, when starlings nipped off every bit of new growth from a lavender and flew off with it. That same spring, sparrows transformed a gracefully flowing clump of the grass Stipa tenuissima into something that resembled a small green hedgehog. Taking turns, they grabbed hanks of the grass in their beaks and pulled, tugged and jumped until it came free, only stopping when it was entirely pruned. When they'd done that, they made a move on the primroses and pulled off every flower, leaving them on the ground to wither. That's birds for you!


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