12 days of a (wildlife) Christmas - Three robin hens

Robin - John Bridges 

Christmas is in the air and here in Ipswich we’re starting to feel festive. Join our Wild Learning Officer in the run up to Christmas by celebrating some of the town’s wild spaces and species as we adapt the famous words of 12 days of Christmas. Traditionally for the third day of Christmas we’d be receiving three French hens, instead we’ve swapped them for three robin hens.

A “cute” Christmas card pin up, robins feature heavily on Christmas merchandise this time of year, however, they are highly territorial willing to defend with surprising ferocity and can actually be less than “cute”.

Robins have appeared on Christmas cards since Victorian times and it is thought that Victorian postmen, known at the time as robin red-breasts due to their red waistcoat uniforms, were the inspiration for them appearing on our cards at this time of year.

Robins however, aggressively hold and defend territories all year round, a behaviour rarely seen in birds, with mated pairs holding their territories during the breeding season with males (cocks) and females (hens) continuing to defend smaller territories afterwards and through the autumn and winter too. This defensive behaviour is why robins can be heard singing heartily and with vigour throughout the year, which most other birds don’t do, as birds won’t expend the energy on signing to defend territories if not necessary.

Despite this aggressive behaviour, robins are one of Britain’s most loved species of bird which is likely to be down to their tame nature and being well adapted to the presence of humans, living and nesting frequently in our gardens. Robins prefer nesting in open fronted boxes or natural places such as low shrubs and ivy, allowing people to see inside the nest and watch the chick’s progress fostering a real connection with them. Robin’s tame and garden loving nature is however, seemingly unique to the UK as in Europe they are shy and secretive hiding out in forests and very rarely seen in garden habitats.

Robin populations are thought to be doing well in the UK but they are susceptible to particularly harsh winters and can lose up to 10% of their body weight in just one evening. Keeping bird feeders and tables topped up with food, especially meal worms for robins can go a long way to help individuals keep up their fat reserves and survive the colder months that are fast approaching.