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Who killed Cock-Robin?

By Ashbourne News Telegraph  |  Posted: March 16, 2010

A robin

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Do you remember that nursery rhyme? Who killed Cock-Robin? “I,” said the sparrow, “with my bow and arrow, I killed Cock-Robin.” 

I must admit it used to make me ridiculously weepy as a child; it’s really quite a blood-thirsty little ditty! I’m not so sure the sparrow was the guilty party now though, having recently observed a pair of male Robins fighting over territory – in fact I suspect poor old Cock-Robin was probably betrayed by one of his own kind!

Invariably, when you ask children what their favourite bird is they often name the Robin (Erithacus rubecula to give him his Latin name). Well, he has such a lovely, sweet little image, and is a guaranteed money earner when stuck on the front of Christmas cards!

He’s also one of the friendliest birds in the garden, bobbing along at the gardener’s side, hoping for a freshly dug worm or two in exchange for some cute, inquisitive looks!  But don’t be fooled – he can be a vicious little tyrant if he senses a threat closing in!
Actually, the Robin kind of reminds me of one particular, almost caricature styled President from my beloved South America. You possibly even know of the particular chap I refer to – he epitomises a grown up version of the cartoon school ground bully!

All puffed up with self importance and a hugely over inflated ego, chest highly decorated with row upon row of medals (how did he actually earn those I wonder? Surely he can’t have been in service that long?). 

And boy, you’d better have some ear plugs handy when he starts his rhetorical rants about sovereignty and border issues (a good example, do you recall his recent tirade against our very own Head of State concerning ownership of the Falkland Islands? “Queen of England, I am talking to you….”)

Yep, I refer to Venezuela’s own little despot, Hugo Chavez! (And here I choose to step no further into the political quagmire, that I shall leave to those high brow satirists much more in the know than I!)
But, you see, that’s exactly what I was reminded of last week with the fighting cock Robins. When they sense an intruder then they will fight, to the death if necessary, to defend their territory. 
Strutting, defining their border limits by repeated hopping from branch to branch, loud and confident singing, their fluffed up, red chests quivering with righteous indignation, how dare there be a trespasser on ‘their patch’?  (The red breast we so admire in Robins is actually more to aid them in defending their area than it is for courtship displays!) 
This particular fight ended up with the two of them tangled up together, in free fall, with the loser slinking off looking decidedly worse for battle, ragged and feather-less. At least he survived.
Still, despite all that, I must admit he is still one of my favourite garden visitors. You will hear his song, loud and often, in the springtime; as well as a warning to other males to keep away, it’s also a love song to woo his future mate.

And oh boy, is he ever vocal! Mine loves singing just outside my bedroom window at the crack of dawn to remind the world that my garden is, in fact, all his! At dawn, I mean please, couldn’t he wait just a few hours more?

And it’s just him singing, none of the other birds start their dawn chorus at that hour! Funnily enough, Chavez also likes having all the attention on him, he is well known for his night time TV talk show – which can last 4 or 5 hours of him. Just him. Talking. Still, I suppose it beats sleeping tablets….
Did you know Robins have two very different songs? One for the Autumn, a slightly subdued and melancholy note, and then a perkier Spring note which is much more upbeat, strong and confident. 
If you want to attract one to your garden he is easily enticed with a few dried mealworms, just remember though that once you start to feed birds they will become reliant on your food source, especially when they are rearing their young, so don’t stop, please!
The last week I have had a rotten cold, I think most people round here have had it actually, it’s certainly a nasty one, and I haven’t felt much like going out and about, but I did get a couple of hours at the Wildlife Centre at Carsington. 
I was thrilled to see so many people there, enjoying a spot of bird watching. It’s a great place to find out more about the birdlife around here, and the RSPB volunteers are incredibly helpful and knowledgeable.
This week we had some interesting (bird) visitors too – a Great Northern Diver, Goldeneyes and we watched a sweet Little Owl for a while, sat on a tree stump in the fields opposite. 
Really, this facility is amazing, just go along on any Tuesday or weekend and see what’s going on! (Even better, it’s completely free, and all the equipment you need to get a good view of the wildlife is there.)
Hopefully by next week I shall be back on my usual form and will be able to bring you all an update on the spring pairing and nest site hunting going on around the reservoir.

I saw some Long Tailed Tits checking out some boxes yesterday so hopefully they will settle there and I can keep you informed of their progress through this blog!



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