Now in late autumn, with winter close upon us, it’s probably the last time of year you’d expect to hear birds singing. But, if you go into your garden on any still day, even a frosty one, you have a very good chance of hearing a sound that is the aural essence of the season: the winter song of the robin.
The reason for the robin’s unseasonal outpouring of song is that these familiar garden birds are in fact the ultimate loner. To survive the winter, they need to defend a feeding territory from other robins, and song is their weapon of choice to demonstrate ownership.
The robin’s song can often be heard early in the morning or in the evening after the sun has gone down. With their large eyes, robins can see well in low light so they are still very much on guard for rivals infiltrating their territory. Robins will even sing by streetlight, and it is the bird perhaps most frequently mistaken for that rare summer visitor, the nightingale.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s only the male robins putting on a performance, given that it’s almost exclusively male songbirds that sing in spring. But right now, your garden vocalist could just as easily be a female, though there’s no easy way to tell the difference.