Thursday, 29 November 2018

Introducing Tuesday’s Robin

In all the gardens I work in, there is a friendly robin, who often comes to see what I’m up to. The garden I work in on Tuesdays had the friendliest robin of all. Sometimes he follows me around all day, hopping quite close to inspect any fresh earth I’ve turned over or perching in the bushes or trees nearby to sing me a little song.

It’s in the autumn and winter that I see him do this the most - when he isn’t busy chatting up the ladies and looking after his young chicks as he does in the spring and summer. This time of year, even if I’m not digging over any soil, he often turns up nearby and will sing me a soft and quiet song, rather than his usual territorial exclamation of a song that he calls from the treetops. This song is gentle and meandering and given the muted volume and the fact that he follows me around to sing it, it appears to be sung just for me.

This week I managed to get you a recording so you can hear tuesday’s robin too. Please excuse the sound of my clipping in the background! He was sitting in the hedge right beside me while I chopped up materials for the compost.

I wouldn't call myself an expert at befriending robins, for that you'd need to turn to someone like Jon Young and his amazing bird book 'What the Robin Knows'. However, my top tips for this are:

1. Make a point of spending good chunks of time in the garden as a whole and working away in a single spot in particular.

2. Start letting your robin know you've seen it and that you're friendly, rather than a threat. If a robin approaches, say hello! Don't turn and stare at him - he might find this threatening. Instead, once you've spotted he's there, get back to what you were doing and just perhaps keep an eye on him out of the corner of your eye.

3. You could try playing a little call and response - this is something birds do with each other - one will sing a little tune and then the other will sing a little tune back and then the first one will reply again and then the second and so on. So hum, whistle or sing a little tune and then pause and see if your robin will sing back. Or wait for your robin to sing and then when he pauses, sing a little tune back. You may find you get a nice little duet going! You might find he takes to this straight away or it may take a good few tries to get something like this going.

4. If a robin approaches really quite close, keep still or only move very slowly and chat to him, so he can get used to you. You may eventually find that he hops right up to you and looks you in the eye. This is a really special thing!

5. The next step I'm working towards is to be able to feed my little robin. I've done it once with a little worm, but I've tried and failed so many times. You need to build up some trust first and then very gently toss something kind of towards but not directly at him. Usually I've found that anything thrown towards a robin scares him off. It's all about slow movement and a lot of patience. The time he took it, I carefully put it down and then slowly looked away - but made sure I could still see him out the corner of my eye. And I waited a while... and then hooray - he came and took it!

One thing you'll find as well as you get to know your robin is that they all have distinct personalities. One robin I've met - he used to come visit me on wednesdays - was great for call and response games. He'd sing so very softly and we'd sing/whistle back and forth to each other for ages. He used to be really plucky and would come sit on the edge of my weed bucket to watch what I was putting in. Tuesday's robin is a louder singer. He sings away merrily by himself, often long and beautiful songs. He's taken longer to become comfortable enough with me to get down on the ground and inspect my work, while I'm still at it. My robin at home is only just now starting to pay me visits while I'm out in the garden, but then I don't have such a regular routine with tending my own garden and often have noisy children with me!

So I definitely recommend keeping an eye out for your robin. Or whichever bird it is that is friendliest where you live. It's a lovely way to begin to feel connected to the natural world around you.

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