Monday, 20 August 2012

Robins and other Garden wildlife

It used to be the English tradition to give common birds a single word name.  One bird so treated was the Robin (Erithacus rubecula).  It is now known (in English)  as the European Robin - which as it is the British National Bird must have put a huge dent in jingoism.  I suspect some other countries didn't change: Avibase offers the name in many other languages and while Spain may have appended a qualifier to give Petirrojo Europeo I see no evidence that the Danes amended Rødhals.

The first point I'd make about this bird is that it is frequently thought of as accompanying gardeners and munching on the invertebrates disturbed by digging.  The RSPB has a nice - albeit small - depiction of this tradition.
The European Robin is rarely pictured pulling a worm out of a lawn (the preserve of Common Blackbirds) or hammering snails (the job of Song Thrushes). 

The European Robin is in the family Muscicapidae: the "old world" flycatchers, having recently been shifted from the thrush family (I guess taxonomists have to keep busy).

This has not restrained the Empire Builders (at least those who named things before shooting them) from designating just about any bird they see with a red breast as a Robin with an appended qualifier.  Possibly the best known (at least in terms of the numbers of people who use the name) is the American Robin (Turdus migratorius).
This is still in the Thrush family.

In Australia there are several 'Robins' with breasts in shades of red.  They and some others in various other hues (eg yellow and black) are in the family Petroicidae (Australasian Robins) all members of which are restricted to the Australasian region.  We have been graced recently by a pair of these lovely little birds, Scarlet Robin Petroica multicolor which often perch in the pistacchio tree outside my study window.
 Of course they are aware of rule #1 for birds: when a camera is pointed at you, head off pdq.
I have not found this species - nor indeed any other locally residing one - to be particularly interested in gardening activities.  This is possibly a little unwise of them since there are many edible (for birds) things encountered when gardening.  

Today was officially designated "get something happening with the compost heaps" day.  A start was made on the smaller of our long term heaps.  This is where we chuck dense tussocks that need a year or two to disintegrate.  This needed relocating and turning and as I did so I found many beetle grubs foraging in the compost.  These were lobbed on to the chook house roof ...
...  for the delectation of whoever wants them (Pied Currawongs being a likely suspect).

While turning another heap I found that the unwanted shallots that had been put in there had not rotted as hoped but were in fact sprouting quite happily.  That was not totally surprising, but this image shows what was surprising:
I have been told in the past that any of the onion family are anathema to worms and can muck up a worm farm in short order.  Why then was every clump of shallots full of writhing annelids?

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