Yesterday, it was damp and foggy at dusk as I walked round the village. Utterly depressing. Then as I passed garden after garden I heard song. Robins’ wistful notes were penetrating the grey with music. I expect many of us have had robins on Christmas cards up in our homes. These have come down, yet the real birds sing on.
I did not learn to pick out robin song from all other birdsong until I was an adult. To me all birdsong sounded the same. Yet robin song is actually one of the easiest to distinguish – and helpfully robins are one of the few birds singing at the moment so now is a good time to get to know it. Robins’ song is flutey, they sing in verses, and each verse is different with a gap of about six seconds between each verse. I used to confuse blackbird and robin song (this will horrify those of you with an acute ear, as blackbird notes are mellower, but I did!) until I learned that blackbirds always finish their song with a few squeaky notes, almost like they have run out of breath.
Robins are unusual for birds in that both males and females sing and they sing through the autumn and winter. This is because they are holding territories. Their song is saying, ‘This patch is mine.’ We humans so often think a patch belongs to us, whether through ownership or paying rent. These birds turn this upside down. Our gardens are theirs. I smiled as I walked, thinking of how these robins were seeing me, making my way through their territory.
In recognition that we are on their territory, as we tidy our gardens we can leave piles of leaves or dead wood tucked under a bush to provide homes for all things creepy-crawly. These piles will act as food cupboards for robins and other birds. We will be rewarded with song and maybe a nest in the spring. That thought will help get me through the coming grey days.
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