Winter Robins in a garden

Garth Lowe

The interest in feeding and watching birds in the garden sometimes raises questions, especially when we have a cold winter as as happened in the last two winters. There seemed to be quite a number of Robins appearing in my garden at Old Storridge in the winter of 2011-2012; more than the usual couple of birds holding territories either side of the feeders. As a small experiment a manually operated trap was set up and the Robins were targeted, caught and ringed. The first bird was caught in the middle of December and the last one at the start of February.

Just two birds were caught in the first month, seven in January, and eleven in February, giving a total of twenty different birds! This was quite a surprise considering individuals normally have winter territories, which they supposed to hold quite vigorously.

During the next winter 2012-2013 the study was continued and with a longer cold winter Robins were caught from the middle of November until right into March, when the last one was caught on 20th. Monthly totals were November just one, none in December. seven in January, seventeen in February, which was a cold month, and eight in March, when the winter dragged on. This gave a grand total of 33 birds, of which eight had been previously ringed in the garden. This does show that we may be underestimating just how many Robins are taking advantage of extra feeding in gardens in a cold winter. This study was prompted by the fact that in the first winter sometimes five robins could be viewed at once, which seemed unusual.

This species is migratory but only a few ringed birds from Britain have been recovered in the Low Countries, France and Spain in the winter. In autumn some birds arrive here from the Continent on their way south, with peak numbers arriving in October. This seems to indicate that these garden birds were not foreign, but ones that were present in the countryside around the garden, shown by the 25% already ringed robins that found their way back for a second winter. One odd ringing recovery of a wintering bird was of a juvenile caught in July in Surrey and three years later found in Switzerland in April! Another of a young bird ringed in Montgomeryshire and subsequently found dead the next winter 1600 km away in southwest Spain (Wernham et al 2002.

Coming more up to date, a solitary robin that appeared to have claimed the garden as its territory, caught in November 2013, was shown to be a bird from the year (2013). It does appear that it may have ousted the previous holder even though it was a young bird!


Wernham, C.V., Toms, M.P,. Marchant, J.H., Clark, J.A., Siriwardena, G.M.,& Baillie, S.R. (Eds) 2002. The Migration Atlas: movements of the birds of Britain & Ireland. T & AD Poyser, London.