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Rescue robins – tips on saving our favourite festive bird this Christmas

By David G Scott

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A favourite little character that visits Highland gardens may be in danger without our help – an expert shares tips on how you can help the robin.

There are currently warnings for snow that have been issued for large swathes of the Highlands, with up to 10cm possible in some spots. The Met Office issued a new yellow warning for snow and ice shortly before 9am yesterday – with the alert coming into force at 5pm yesterday and remaining in effect until noon today.

A robin can use up to 10 per cent of its body weight to keep warm on a single winter night, so unless it can replenish its reserves every day, a cold spell can prove fatal. This is particularly hard for them because daylight foraging is reduced to just 8 hours or less, compared to over 16 hours during the summer. British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) research has shown that small birds must spend over 85 per cent of daylight hours just foraging for food to be able to consume enough calories to survive the long night.

This friendly little robin was seen along Wick riverside. Picture: DGS
This friendly little robin was seen along Wick riverside. Picture: DGS

Without supplementary bird feeding in gardens, up to half of our robins could die of cold and starvation. Robins are particularly susceptible as they remain faithful to their gardens no matter what the weather.

Sean McMenemy, garden wildlife expert and director of Ark Wildlife, provides insight into how the public can help robins in their gardens this Christmas with some simple tips.

How to make your winter garden robin-friendly

1. Food

The best foods for robins are:

  • Fatty foods like suet pellets
  • Dried fruit
  • Mealworms and calci worms (these are especially beneficial because they are insectivores)
  • Special high protein robin blends
  • Peanuts (shredded or crushed)
  • Meaty kitchen scraps
  • Mild cheese
  • Cake and biscuit crumbs

Robins prefer to forage and feed off the ground. To encourage them to spend more time with you and make your garden a home, place a small tray full of their favourite food close to a shrub tree or preferred perch. If you’re lucky, robins can quickly become confident in our presence and feeding from the hand is not unknown!

The little bird looks for titbits and was seen feeding from people's hands at Wick riverside. Picture: DGS
The little bird looks for titbits and was seen feeding from people's hands at Wick riverside. Picture: DGS

2. Shelter

During icy spells, birds cluster together to share their warmth. They often use nest boxes as winter shelters, so putting up robin nest boxes can make a huge difference. These will be used as night roosting sites and places for nesting in the spring. Place nest boxes at least 2m from dense vegetation in order to prevent attacks from predators.

3. Water

Place plenty of water sources in the garden. Bird tables make a big difference to the survival rate of robins in urban and suburban areas. Prevent water from freezing by placing a ping pong ball in a bird bath. Alternatively, ice free for bird baths slows the freezing process down to -4°C keeping water liquid for longer.

4. Rewilding

It’s worth ensuring that your garden isn’t too pristine or tidy. Some wild undergrowth will encourage the proliferation of insects and help robins, and other birds, find food this winter.

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