Friendly robin

We often go to feed some local ducks, geese and swans (with oats, as bread is not recommended) which my boys both enjoy. Over the last few months, we've found that a robin has come to eat the oats my sons have spilt on the ground. The robin has become bolder and less scared of the boys - who now stand quietly and wait for it to come - and we've seen it close up. On the most recent visit to feed the ducks, we saw the robin again and it hopped around the boys' feet. My eldest wanted to know more about the robin, and I'm keen to encourage his curiosity, so I quickly thought of some fun things we could do to help him learn a bit about robins and birds more generally. He seemed to enjoy what we did so I thought I'd write about it!

The friendly robin

The first thing we did was a guessing game about robins. Rather than just tell him what I knew, I asked him to guess what was right to make him try and think for himself a little first. These are the questions I can remember asking:
- What do robins eat? His initial answer was oats, but then I pointed out that we don't go and feed the robin oats every day, so maybe they eat something else. He wasn't sure what, so I told him that they eat insects, worms and seeds. Some internet searching since tells me they also eat fruit and other invertebrates. In case you're also not an expert on birds, I found the RSPB's website to be a good source of information!
- Where do robins live? He thought for a while, then said a nest in a tree. They actually tend to nest near to the ground e.g. in hedges rather than high up in trees and we had a look in some hedges on the way home to see if we could see any nests (we couldn't).
- Do robins migrate in Winter? He thought not, as the robin was here now.
- How heavy are robins? We've been talking a bit about weight over the last few months. He didn't want to guess this one. They weigh about 20g, so we discussed how 5 robins would weigh 100g as this is a weight he's familiar with from recent baking.

He's got into asking 'why?' questions recently and he then asked me why the robin is a bird. I interpreted this as 'what features mean it is a bird' and asked him what he thought made the robin a bird. He thought it was because it could fly, but then we talked about the emus he saw at Battersea Park Children's Zoo a while ago and penguins, neither of which can fly. We decided that they were all birds, and the things they, and the other birds he named - ducks, swans, geese, hens, owls and magpies - all have in common are wings, feathers and beaks. It was clear that he'd already got in his head an idea of what birds are, but hadn't really thought about why they were different from himself.

I then asked him about whether the birds had babies like his brother or whether they laid eggs, and he was pretty clear that they laid eggs. We talked about how robins would lay eggs in the Spring so that the baby robins had the best part of the year to grow up when there was most food around and it wasn't too cold. He wanted to know if the robin we saw was a Mummy or a Daddy robin and I explained that I didn't know because - unlike the mallard ducks on the lake - the male and female ('Daddy and Mummy') robins look the same. By this time, we were approaching home and his mind turned to which sort of snack he'd be able to have when we got in! However I suspect he learnt quite a bit from our conversation, and it was nice that seeing the robin sparked his interest.

The robin again, returning for more oats

The next day I decided to try something else bird-themed, and play some birdsong clips from different birds (the RSPB website linked to above has examples). He instantly recognised a magpie - which he does when we are out and about after my Dad once commented on being able to hear one - but not the robin. We listened to ducks, geese and blackbirds before he lost interest, although he asked to hear the robin again later. Not a long activity but it was fun for a few minutes and required no preparation!

We will keep an eye out for the robin next time we go out to feed the ducks and it'll be interesting to see what he tells me about it as that's usually a good measure of what he remembers!