Sunday 24 February 2013

What the flock?

There were four Robins in the garden at Tense Towers this morning. That's enough for a flock! The normal amount is one, and if we see two outside of the breeding season, it's a rare occurrence. So four was a bit extraordinary.

The first two that we noticed were sharing the Winter-flowering Honeysuckle bush. This is a good vantage point from which to flit to the seed feeder and back again and also allows for some ground foraging beneath its unruly stems. They seemed to tolerate each other to the point of indifference or else were very happy in one another's company. On various occasions they were peacefully within 1 foot of each other, something usually unimaginable for such a tiny thermonuclear thrush, unless battle to the death had already commenced.

The third Robin was several metres away, hogging the fat block cage in a Hawthorn tree and, bizarrely, defending this from Robin number four, whilst simultaneously ignoring Robins One and Two.

So what are the possible reasons for this strange behaviour?

1. The temperature has been hovering around freezing for a few days, there's a chill north wind blowing and we've had a dusting of snow. Coupled with a lack of food and the need to take on board sufficient calories to make it through the night, these are highly likely to be the main drivers behind such pacifist behaviour from our feisty feathered friends. Normal differences are left to one side and each bird concentrates on carbo-loading.

2. It may well be cold but we're nearing the end of February and it's just possible that Robins One and Two are a male and female, settling upon a joint territory for the breeding season. Obviously, Robins Three and Four wouldn't be welcome, but they were studiously ignored. However, as it's doubtful that general Robinhood has boundaries that are similar to our human fences and walls, it's difficult to be certain where the territory edges are, but there has often seemed to be an unofficial border running diagonally across the garden between the seed feeder and the fat block cage. Which just leaves R3 and R4 behaving to type and being predictably arsey about sharing any space with another Robin-shaped entity.

3. Or possibly there has been a local, or regional, movement of Robins due to the weather or food supply, and by tomorrow we'll be back to just one little bundle of hormonal fury.

All this made me wonder, "What is the collective noun for a flock of Robins?" As with most things, someone else on the internet had already mused over this problem. The BTO pondered upon this very issue two years ago, during its GardenBirdWatch survey. Here is a list of the top ten possible collective Robin nouns, selected from the hundreds of suggestions.

Mind you, I would have ignored all of those and gone with either 'a truce' or 'an unease'.


holdingmoments said...

Interesting behaviour. I've had a maximum of 3 so far, but I'm sure 2 are a 'couple', and the third just passing through.
Rather like the idea of a truce of Robins.

Martin said...

I would suspect temperature and the food supplies were the cause and as soon as the temperature rises you'll be back to normal. If you really want to cause trouble start a strident whistled trill from somewhere and you'll get them all aggressive defending their territories.

Robins are fun to watch :)

Imperfect and Tense said...

This could be the start of Graeme's alternative collective nouns!

Imperfect and Tense said...

They were difficult to watch! Never still for a second.