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Nestwatch 2010 - Robin Cam

Streaming has Finished: 4 eggs hatched Saturday 23rd of April in the nest box in Derek's back garden. 4 fledglings left the nest approximately 9/10pm Thursday 6th of May. Last remaining egg failed to hatch. Further information and links at the bottom of this page.

The European Robin - Featuring Video Interview with Biologist Terry Flanagan

The robin is probably Ireland's best known and best loved bird. The distinctive red patch on the chest has given us it's common name "Robin Redbreast". The term 'Robin' is also applied to other (unrelated) birds with red or orange breasts, including the American Robin (a much larger thrush like bird) and the Australian Robin (which is much more closely related to the Crows). The familiar tune about "The red, red robin goes bob, bob, bobbin' along" in fact refers to the American robin and not "our" robin. The red breast is not used in courtship. Rather it is for territory defence. It is the red colour that triggers territorial behaviour and robins will even attack a tuft of red feathers on its own.


It's scientific name ( Erithacus rubella ) stems from the Greek erithakos meaning 'solitary and the Latin rebecula meaning 'little red one'. During the 15th century it became popular to give human names to familiar species and hence the origin of Robin Redbreast, which was eventually shortened to Robin. The male and female are indistinguishable. Adult robins weigh less than an ounce (about 20 grams) and are approx. 5 inches (13 cm.) long.


Much folklore is associated with our robin and how it acquired its redbreast. It is said that the robin helped Christ on the cross by removing the thorns from his head and that his blood splashed onto the robins breast. Another story tells of a robin fanning a fire to keep it alight for the baby Jesus and in doing so it singed his breast. Yet another, tells of a robin mopping up the blood spilt by the fleeing Jesus as he escapes from pursuing soldiers, thereby concealing the escape.


On the continent, the robin is an extremely shy bird, but here in Ireland it is extremely tame, regularly following the gardener as he or she goes about their daily chores in the garden. They are even known to land on your hand and accept a food offering!   (See photo).  Originally, robins would have followed foraging animals, e.g. wild boars, as they dug up the soil in search of food. The robin has now learned to follow humans in a similar way. Robins are mainly insectivorous, feeding mostly on worms and insects.


Although we associate Spring and Summer as the time of year when we hear the birds singing, the robin sings throughout the year, even on Christmas Day. This is due to the fact they they hold territories all year round and they sing to protect these territories. Both males and females hold a territory and both sing throughout the winter. In fact, robins are very anti-social birds and if another robin strays into a territory, a fight may erupt which often results in serious injury, even death. They will even chase other species, like dunnocks, out of their territory. The possession of a good territory is the key to survival as it provides essential food and nesting site.


Robins begin to pair off in February. It is often said that St. Valentine's Day is day in which birds pick their mates, and in the case of the robin, its said that it's the female who chooses the male!  Breeding begins in March and the female then constructs the cup-shaped nest of leaves, grass and moss or hair. The birds only pair for breeding. Males often mate with "the girl next door" and both birds combine their territories. During this time courtship feeding is a prominent activity with the male supplying almost half of the females daily food intake. Even though the pair stay together for the season, it's not uncommon for one or other partner to "have a bit on the side".


An average of 4 - 6 eggs are laid, one a day, generally early in the morning. Incubation is by the female only and lasts approx. 14 days. Once they hatch, both parents look after the young and they fledge in another 14 days. When the young leave the nest they don't have the red breast of the parents. They are all brown in colour, not developing the characteristic adult coloration for about six months.


During the breeding season a robin pair will have two and sometimes three broods, so while the male is caring for the young fledglings of the first brood, the female will be busy building a new nest for the next brood. It may seem silly to build a new nest rather than use the previous one but there is good reason for doing so. The old nest will more than likely be infested with parasites and by building a new nest, this reduces the spread of these ticks and lice.


The average life expectancy of a robin is short. Less than one third of fledglings and less than one half of adults survive to the following year, but overall robin numbers are healthy and in fact are increasing. However, once the young birds get over the first year, the chances of survival increase. The longest lived robin is believed to have reacher eleven. The greatest threats to our robins are the domestic cat and road kill. Severe winters (like the one just gone) can also cause a drop in population. On a very cold night, a small bird like the robin can use up to 10% of its body weight, and if a cold snap continues, preventing birds from feeding, this can cause major problems. That is why it is important to provide food and water for our wild birds. If you want to provide food for your local robin, then mealworms are the ideal choice. If you want to provide a nesting site, an old kettle or hanging basket stuffed into a hedge might just do the trick. Otherwise, try an open-fronted nestbox.

Derek's Diary Read Derek Mooney’s diary of the Robin’s that have taken up residence in nest box in Derek’s back garden.
Terry's Q&A Terry Flanagan answers your questions about the Robin and poses some questions of his own so you can play the Robin Quiz.
Further Reading A selection of recommended books on the Robin.
AirSpeed Technical support for Nestwatch 2010 provided by AirSpeed.
Birdwatch Ireland
BirdWatch Ireland Conservation partners for Nestwatch 2010.