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Why robins choose to nest in odd places
One spring I hung an old storm lantern over my back door and by the end of the day a robin had begun building a nest in it. I was so excited when I saw it busily carrying dead leaves and moss into the cavity, because this meant I now had three pairs of robins nesting in the garden. Robins are very territorial and pairs will not tolerate competition, unless the food supply is plentiful and there is enough cover for them. So I took this new arrival as a personal compliment for all the hard work I have put in to making my home and gallery in Thixendale a haven for wildlife.
Over the 17 years since I moved to Fotherdale I have planted a small woodland, a wildflower meadow and a great number of shrubs and plants. I have also dug a pond and stream for the birds as there was no water source here then. The three pairs of robins are not altogether happy about sharing this abundance and so far one pair has commandeered the back of the garden and the other has the front, with the house acting as an invisible frontline between them. The third pair have taken over the area surrounding my gallery adjacent to my house. I’m not sure how this uneasy truce will play out as the breeding season progresses, since although the new pair at the back of the house has settled into the storm lantern comfortably, the pair at the front keep trying to construct a nest in the spare wheel of my Landcruiser. I have tried to deter this pair, since I really need to use my car most days and a moving vehicle is hardly a secure environment in which to raise a new brood of robins. I’ve even tried driving it 40 m away to the car park outside my gallery, but the robins keep finding it and carry on with their construction!!!
Robins are famous for choosing all kinds of unlikely locations to nest in and seem unafraid of raising their broods amidst human activity. I once used an old kettle, which I used to keep plant labels in, as a nest box. I got the idea after watching a robin perch on its handle whilst I was gardening. I decided to turn the kettle on its side and nail it to the fence and sure enough the robin took to it easily. The experience became the inspiration for one of my most popular paintings, see below. It was fascinating to then watch as the robins built the nest inside, using just their beaks to create a cup shape out of dead leaves and moss and lining it with hair.
I am particularly fond of the second pair of robins since they wait for me to open the front door each morning and beg for fresh meal worms. This pair eventually gave up trying to nest in my landcruiser and I was pleased to see them collecting nesting material along my driveway. I was concerned I’d put them off nesting entirely. But to my surprise I watched them flying in and out of the grill of my other car! What could I do? I thought long and hard about it and decided I would simply have to ground my car for the entire nesting period, which ended up being 38 days. They soon built a nest, stuffing the front grill with leaves and moss. It was quite amusing watching them neatly tucked away under the shelter of the car. They sat on their eggs for 17 days. It was difficult to see if any chicks had hatched as they were so tucked away inside the car. But one day they started following me around the garden until I put more food for them. I knew this was a sign that the chicks had hatched as they needed extra food to feed their young.
Three weeks later the chicks were nearly ready to fledge, so I put up a hide in front of the car to photograph them as they went in and out of the front grill. Robins often have more than one brood, so before they chose to return to my car grill, I left an old spare tyre out for them. It turned out to be a successful box!
Author: Robert E Fuller