I’m Worried About Ricky


I’m worried about Ricky. Ricky is the young robin who has fledged from a nest in our hedge and is hanging around, mainly in front of our house, his ‘parents’ having flown the coop (haha).

I use the inverted commas around parents because, for the most part, birds don’t really do parenting. When chicks are fledged, they are fledged, and are largely left to their own devices.

Fend for yourself, we hatched you and fed you as a chick. Now you’re on your own. Watch out for hawks. See you around. There are worms in the flower bed. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.

Now there are exceptions. I saw an immature jackdaw, half grey, the other day on our tree out front, with a parent (see what I did there?) showing him how to get aphids from under leaves.

And a few weeks ago, an adult magpie was showing a youngling how to get at snails and other food from under the eaves of a wall. Very interesting pedagogic techniques too. Smart little magpie, picked it up straight away. A+.

Anyhoo, about Ricky. First thing I should say is that Ricky isn’t his real name. In fact robins have an interesting naming system. They don’t have any name at all until they mature and mate. For males that is 2 years, for females, it’s 3.

Which means that female robins often get slagged by other species. They get called ‘nest snatchers’ and so on. Given that the male is only two thirds the age of the female, it is a bit embarrassing, but there you go. Eagles sometimes get called ‘nest snatchers’ too, but for different reasons.

Anyway robins can live with embarrassment and a bit of slagging. They just can’t live with sparrow hawks. Or any other kind of hawk. Or cats.

The second distinguishing feature is that their names are then given to them by their mate. Which leads to another area of embarrassment for robins: their names. Since they are named by their young and frisky mates, often in the middle of mating (say my name, say my name) the resulting appellations tend to be a bit juvenile, not very original, and of an (ahem) naughty nature.

‘Big Cock’ (I know, and not very original), ‘Hot Hen’, ‘Red Chest’, “Frisky Tail”, “Red Hot Robin”, “Big Chest” (size seems to be very important to robins), “Pert Pecker”, “Big Beak”, “All Day Long”, and so on. I know, I know. What can you do? And they get stuck with them for life.

What was I saying? Oh, yes: Ricky. When I saw him first a few weeks ago, he was speckled all over, cream and brown. Big ball of fluff. Gorgeous. I wondered if he was a Dunnock, or some kind of dwarf Song Thrush. Now a bit of redness is creeping into his chest and the speckle is diminishing. See the picture above. He’s a Robin alright.

And he’s gormless. Totally trusting – comes right up to me. Doesn’t budge when I get close to him. Doesn’t fly off when I open the door or pull up in the car. Hops around in the open. Looks me in the eye. All no nos for birds. We have cats around here. And a Rook, Magpie or Peregrine would have him for lunch in a flash. Bold as brass, he is, doesn’t know any better. Eejit.

I’m conflicted. Should I scare him off or feed him or do nothing? I feel like a parent of a thirty-something child who really needs to leave home and become independent but hasn’t a clue.

I’m worried. I haven’t seen him yet today. One of the cats might have gotten him.

And a second thing just occurred to me. Since males and female robins are almost identical, his name might not be Ricky, her name might be Ruby. A young female! With mature male Blackbirds and Sparrows and Dunnocks all sorts of randy cocks of the walk around.

Now I’m really worried.