A couple of times last week when I went to get the car out of the garage, I found a bird flying about inside. As I went in, the bird would fly out, fluttering so fast that I was unable to recognise what species it was, except that it was smaller than a blackbird and bigger than a wren.
Nothing unusual about that, or so I thought, especially when you take into consideration the fact that the garage has an open doorway on its north-facing side that allows birds to fly in and out at their own free will.
However, when it happens that every time you go in, a bird flys out, it calls for a little ornithological Sherlock Holmes investigating. And that’s exactly what I did.
I stood in a corner, keeping still, and waited for our feathered friend to return. And she did, quite quickly. She flew up from the lawn, with some bits of dead and dried hedge trimmings in her beak, and perched upon a rung of the trellis work that supports the porch around the garage doorway. She sat there for a moment, looking at me, turning her head slightly to one side, with her red breast shining. She tipped her head from side to side a couple of times, looking at me inquisitively, as if to say "What are you doing in my garage?"
Then she flew into the north-west corner of the garage and into a little cardboard box hidden behind an old battery-charger and some wood, stacked out of the way with some old newspapers, about four or five feet above the garage floor.
Then she flew out of the garage with her beak empty and then returned a little while later with some more bits of hedge-trimmings; and then again and again.
She was, of course, a robin building her nest, choosing the comforts of my garage to lay her eggs and rear her young ones. Robins are notorious for nesting in garden sheds and open outbuildings, and often pick old kettles, saucepans and discarded teapots as likely places to nurture their broods. The robin in my garage is obviously no exception. Strangely enough, on the exterior side of the wall where she is nesting, there is a little wooden birdbox, specially made and erected a few years ago to encourage the birds to nest in my garden. Lady Robin Redbreast has decided to ignore my provided home and opted for her own chosen place to go about maternal matters.
Although they are known as redbreasts, the throat, chest and forehead are in fact more of a bright orange, while the upper-parts are olive brown and the under-parts are whitish. They are resident in this country and both sexes are similar in appearance but it is the female that takes the task of incubating the eggs.
The breeding season usually begins in late March in the south and is later, sometimes into July, in the north. The nest is lined with dead leaves, moss, wool and hair. Each clutch consists of five to six eggs which are white with red or sometimes sandy blotches and spots. Incubation takes twelve to fifteen days and the young birds leave the nest after about two weeks. Often, two broods in quick succession are reared.
It looks like for the next few weeks a certain corner of my garage is going to be out of bounds, and the use of the battery-charger is definitely going to be out of the question. Not only that, I’m going to have to keep a watchful eye on my cat – otherwise he’s going to be keeping more than a watchful eye on something else!
First published in the Wylye Valley Life magazine, Friday 5 April 1985.