Foster Parenting?

Home after a satisfying day’s work in Tamworth.

Something not right in the back garden. The logs piled against the bottom wall (fire-pit fuel) are tumbled down. And the ruins of the nest built by robins inside it are strewn across the floor, nearby three dead nestlings. What caused the slippage? A cat? Searching for the nest, on the prowl or just using the pile as a route over the wall? But I would have expected a cat to take the chicks. Or maybe the unexpected downfall scared it away. A hedgehog? A rat? Something else?

We are truly sorry for parent birds, remembering our neighbour saying when she saw the secretive pair flying in and out of the narrow space (the nest was truly invisible) that there would, inevitably be danger, at least, from cats.

Later, we sit outside watching a pair of pipistrelles hawking the spaces around the small leafed lime tree and, so much higher swifts doing the same. Listening to the chatter of magpies and the evening songs of blackbirds.


The following evening, we are enjoying another outdoor sit-down.  Hanging baskets planted up, seedlings in the greenhouse and those hardening off are all watered, newly planted out plants up on site watered in. It is hot (20 Celsius!) and these plants need settling down. The skies are pink as the sun lowers itself toward the roof top horizon. As we sit, quietly observing we notice three blue tit fledglings in a pieris by the fence. Clearly they have successfully emerged from the nest box in the tree. Each sits in a different part of the shrub: so well-camouflaged that I only notice them by following the circuitous flight of a parent blue tit as it brings food for its youngsters. This is parental dedication at its greatest: the exhausting search for more and more and more food, necessitating perhaps journeys further and further afield.


We marvel at what we are watching, but the wonder turns to something else as a robin also begins to feed the youngsters. We do a double-take. Maybe one of these nestlings is a robin? Clearly not, they have the trade mark blue tit plumage.

Then, perhaps over-anthropomorphising, I come up with a theory:

This robin is one of the recently bereaved parents and is, either compensating for her own loss by feeding another species, or is simply programmed after so long brooding to respond to the ”feed-me” calls of young birds – even of a different species.

Now I know it is not good practice to assign human values to wild-life; their circumstances and “hard-wiring” are so very different so I don’t get too carried away with my theory.


But the robin (or maybe it is two robins) continue to bring food until light is all but gone and the youngsters are falling asleep on their very perches.

Are robin and blue tit diets similar? I have the impression that robins (being thrushes after all) feed on worms and ground insects and that blue tits feed their young with caterpillars, greenfly and the like. So will the fledglings survive on the mixed diet they are, currently, being fed?

Will there be any conflict between the species co-parenting? Robins, particularly are aggressively territorial, so will they drive the natural parents away?

Certainly this behaviour is something I have never noticed before – unless, of course, it involves cuckoos.



One response to this post.

  1. It is one thing to feed a different bird that has hatched in your nest, but I have never heard of robins feeding bluetit fledglings.


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