It was only a little snatch of song that I heard in the garden late this evening, but enough to tell me that autumn is upon us. The first winter notes of a robin, much thinner and softer than the rich and confident declaration we’ve heard for the last few months, really does herald the end of summer. Some say there’s not much difference between the two songs, but with a little practice they’re very easy to tell apart. Robins are a lifesaver for bird song enthusiasts in winter, when the countryside is mostly silent, but what is most intriguing is that both males and females sing. They vigorously defend territories, which are only relinquished in very bad weather, or at the onset of the breeding season in early spring.
Most of this year’s speckled juveniles have now moulted into adult plumage and are indistinguishable for their parents. The adults have, for the most part, completed their annual change of feathers, and so we will soon be awash with perfect robins. They’re still not really showing themselves, but will shortly begin to establish territories, and be one of the most prominent birds in the land.
We generally think of our little robins as residents, but many European robins are long distance travellers. Towards the end of autumn, Scandinavian birds en route for southern Europe, briefly join our local robins. When weather conditions are suitable, big falls can be encountered in the early morning, raising the adrenaline of ringers, and swelling the number of robins in our gardens. They don’t stay long, and soon relative peace returns apart from the sound of residential warfare providing the principal sound of the countryside in winter.