The Robin War – A Battle For Territory

I walked out to sit on the front stoop yesterday and as I sat down I notice four Robins just a few yards away. Two mating pairs, one set mature and one set clearly younger. The elder pair consisted of a sturdy male and a very drab female. Both healthy and confident. The younger pair was made up of a clearly marked and still fairly colorful female and a slickly colored male with a noticeably smaller stature than his elder counterpart. Both pairs were feeding and clearly eyeing each other up. There was no question who belonged to which pair, so the eyeing had nothing to do with mating rituals. So why the hostility?

As I sat and watched, the two females would fly off and return with beaks full of building materials. The younger pair have chosen one of those decorative pines shaped like a green snowball on a stick right next to our front door. Perhaps all of six feet from the door in fact. The elder pair chose a twelve foot tall juniper next to the neighbors garage, perhaps thirty feet from the younger pair and about ten feet from the neighbors garage door entrance. The elder pair were here last year and nested in the same spot. (Don’t ask me how I know it is the same pair, I just do… even I don’t know how I know) They are the wiser couple of course, building in a tree which offers a bit more distance from people and ample exit scenarios.

The younger couple, while choosing a place with more protection from the wind (walls on two sides, West and North), are only feet from what will be a busy human traffic way. Additionally, they are limited as to exit routes and of course entrance routes too. The little tree itself does offer great protection both from a visibility perspective as well as from a construction perspective. That little tree is sturdy!

Both pairs chose places where they are likely to be able to raise the young that will soon be in those as yet unfinished nests. However….

This morning (late morning) I again stepped out to have a bit of tea and take in the warm South wind. I sat and sipped, and again the females were flitting back and forth with nesting materials. But the young couple was being herded and harassed by the elder male. He did not bother the younger female directly, but every time she showed up, he would hop toward the young male who was stalking back and forth, always on the same line, in front of the homestead. Clearly the young male was protecting the young female, and making a point of it. The elder male was having none of it. At one point they fought, and I don’t mean they chased each other around. The feathers flew, literally. This battle took place three paces from where I sat and I watched as the elder male eventually pinned the younger male to the ground and gave him a pecking that made even me cringe. The younger male did escape, but I noticed a limp as he did so. So what is this all about?

It would seem that there is plenty of building material and food for both pairs. Resources are not the issue. Why the animosity? Are they that territorial? I don’t know. I am not sure I really want to know. I think I will just watch this play out. One thing is for certain though: This is not a battle…this is a war. The younger couple is now hemmed into an area of about thirty square feet that the elder male stays away from, mostly because he seems uninterested in pushing that far. Most of the time anyway. The young female will land just feet away from me on the stoop in order to get over to the little tree with her materials, less afraid of me than of the elder male. The younger male, when not being bullied by the elder, keeps a close eye on me and plays hide and seek: If I look at him, he hops behind the little tree, if I look away, I see in my peripheral vision the youngster come back, check on me, then take up his guard duty post marching back and forth along the same line with a wary eye out for the elder male. The elder female is of course ignoring the whole thing. She is building her nest unmolested.

As I noted, it will be interesting to see how this pans out. The brutality is no mystery, animals do not do ‘all star wrestling’. When they fight, it is to either make a point or to end up not needing to make a point anymore. That is the way that it is, and as a Marine, it makes sense to me. But in this case, why fight at all? Where is the threat? It is none of my business of course, but I am going to be nosy and watch this play out… There is something to be learned from this, maybe even about myself.

I watch and wonder….

About Author:

Retired automation engineer (having had many roles leading up to that). Interested in agriculture, economics, cancer research, philosophy, embedded systems and SOC(System On Chip). Enjoy the family farm and my grandsons and playing around with Raspberry Pi and Arduino systems. A bit of web programming in Perl... growing plants.... and too many other things to list.

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