Monday, October 19, 2015

Rockin' Robin

The robin is one of the most common birds wintering in the Maltese islands. It is well known and probably easily recognised by everybody. It is also very tame and regularly visits gardens even in the most built up areas.

Up to a couple of decades ago robins were ruthlessly trapped by thousands of boys and men of all ages. To catch them they exploited the fact that robins are very territorial birds. Each robin takes up residence in a patch of land and defends it against all other robins. 

The characteristic orange breast, song and call evolved to help them to establish and maintain their territory.

The song and call are enough to inform other robins that a particular area is already occupied by another robin. If a robin ignores the audio warning and does enter into an occupied territory, it is confronted by the territory’s own robin. Here the orange breast is used to full effect. If this still does not work it launches itself against the intruder and attacks it.

Robins used to be trapped by being tricked into attacking a robin placed in a cage trap called trabokk in Maltese. If it was the beginning of the trapping season and no robin were available to be used as a decoy they placed a red cloth or a halved pomegranate fruit inside the trap. Each and every trapper caught several robins every season. Most of them died within a few days or weeks because being insectivorous birds they could not live in cages.

Luckily robin trapping is a thing of the past thanks to years of educational campaigns that thought children that it was much better to enjoy robins in the countryside than to trap them. 

Slowly attitudes changed and today children would not recognise a robin trap if they saw one.

Since the trapping of robins stopped Malta became a safer place for the robin and it became possible for everybody to enjoy the sight and song of this bird. On April 11th the Maltese will be called to make Malta even safer for birds by voting against the hunting of turtle doves and quails when these birds are on their way to breed. This is an opportunity not to be missed as each and every citizen will be able to take positive action for birds. 

This article was published in the Times of Malta on 22 January 2015.

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