European robins, also commonly known as robin redbreasts, are one of the UK’s most common garden birds and are well known for their often-quirky choice of nest sites, cleverly making use of any abandoned tools, outdoor machinery, or even discarded footwear. But as well as these more unusual nesting sites, what kind of natural nests do robins build, and how many broods do they raise each year?
Read on to learn more about the nesting and breeding habits of Britain’s much-loved red-breasted garden visitor.
Robins have incredibly diverse and adaptable nesting habits, and can use even the most unlikely objects as a base for raising their young. From naturally camouflaged sites, tucked away from predators deep in garden undergrowth, to upcycling outdoor equipment such as watering cans and flower pots as nest foundations, robins are versatile and resourceful birds when it comes to nesting.
Once robins are satisfied they have found a suitable spot, safe from disturbances and sheltered from direct sunlight and extreme weather, nest construction can begin. If, during construction, the chosen site is not as secluded as originally thought, it will be abandoned, and a different, safer site selected.
The nest of a European Robin (Robin Redbreast)
Robins’ nests consist of a rough outer structure of twigs, moss and dead leaves. The nest’s cup-shaped interior is lined with softer materials, including hair, fine plant roots and down. Open-fronted nest boxes may also be used by robins, and occasionally far less traditional items, such as discarded shoes or boots, hanging baskets, and even inside the engines of disused vehicles can be used as nest sites.
Robins begin constructing their nests in March, ahead of laying the first clutch of eggs in early spring, usually from early April onwards. Nesting lasts until mid-June or can even extend into July or later if a third brood - or on rare occasions, even a fourth - is being raised.
Robin sat on the nest
Once the construction is complete, female robins lay 4 to 6 eggs per clutch, with usually one new egg laid each morning. Incubation is the sole responsibility of the female, who is brought food by the male.
Eggs can hatch after between 12 and 21 days, although the typical incubation period is around 14 days. As soon as the eggs hatch, the female removes the shells from the nest interior. Both parents are active in feeding the hatchlings and keeping them warm and protected.
Although they are born without feathers, robin chicks develop quills within the first three days, and rows of feathers follow shortly afterwards. By 10 days, young robins are fully feathered, and are ready to fledge by 14 days.
Female robins select a safe and suitably inconspicuous site and construct a thick, cup-shaped nest, usually fairly low to the ground. Males remain close at hand, bringing food and nesting materials to females while they are busily building, but do not take an active role in the actual construction. A rounded nest of grass and twigs is formed on a foundation of moss or dried leaves, and then lined with hair or fine plant roots.
Robin gathering moss to build the nest
Robin chicks fledge at around 13 to 14 days, but continue to be tended by their parents for a further 16 to 24 days after they have left the nest. Once on the ground, it is typically male robins that provide the most support to the fledglings, as females are busy preparing for their next brood of eggs.
Two broods a year is normal for a pair of European robins, while three or even four broods in the same year is not unheard of. Once one brood has left the nest and is being cared for on the ground by a male robin, the female may already be busy incubating her next clutch of eggs.
A European Robin gathering fur for nesting material
European robins may revisit the same general location when nesting, but rather than laying a second clutch of eggs in an old nest, they are more likely to repurpose a nest they have previously used by building on top of it or making use of the nest materials.
The eggs of European robins are a pale, whitish colour, with some pale reddish-brown speckled or streaky markings that can give the eggs an overall buff appearance. Robins’ eggs measure 20 mm by 15 mm (0.8 in by 0.6 in), and are smooth, with a matte finish.
A nest of a robin with eggs inside
Robins can begin laying their eggs from as early as late March, although from early April onwards is most common. Robin pairs raise two broods each year; three or even four clutches is not completely unheard of. The final brood is raised later in June or July, and this can even extend into early August if a rare fourth clutch is laid.
Robins are notorious for choosing the most unlikely objects to build their nests in. They may choose to use a nest box if one is available, but it needs to have an open front and be surrounded by natural shelter and dense vegetation, such as ivy or other creepers.
To maximise the chance of attracting a robin, a nest box should be positioned out of direct sunlight, up to 2 m (6.6 ft) off the ground, and facing north or north-east, away from westerly winds.
As well as suitable wide-fronted nest boxes, robins have been known to nest in old wellington boots, kettles, watering cans and plant pots, and even inside disused barbecues.
Robin feeding fledgling some food
Unless they are incubating eggs or caring for nestlings, garden birds tend not to sleep in nests at night. European robins are no exception to this. Robins are diurnal birds, and are not active at night. They spend between 6 and 7 hours each night resting, roost perched on tree branches, in bushes, and in other secluded spots such as window ledges, away from predators and safe from exposure to extreme weather conditions.
European robins are one of the UK’s most common garden birds, so it’s no surprise that they may choose to nest in gardens, but only if there is sufficient shelter and protection from predators and other unwelcome disturbances.
Although robins are used to human company and are regular garden visitors, they require a quiet, undisturbed nesting site, protected by dense shrubbery or other thick foliage in order to consider building their nest close to human habitation. A preferred nesting site would be located away from disruption caused by artificial light sources, such as illumination from car headlights or garden security lights.
Close up of a perched robin
Although they are often considered to be friendly birds who are at ease with nearby human companions, robins can be particularly sensitive and easily startled while building their nests. If they are disturbed before laying their eggs, they will desert the nest, and search for a new, more secluded site. Even in the early stages of laying, a female robin may decide to abandon unhatched eggs if she feels severely under threat.
It’s worth noting that an apparently abandoned nest may not actually have been deserted by a female robin after all. Brooding does not begin until the final egg of a clutch has been laid, and as eggs are laid over the course of several days, female robins may leave an incomplete clutch of eggs unattended while searching for food before returning to resume laying at a later stage.
Robins will only sleep in their nests at night when there are chicks or eggs inside, otherwise, they'll tend to sleep in nooks and crannies, shrubs, and low-hanging branches.
Generally speaking, the female robin won't usually leave the eggs during incubation for more than 5 to 10 minutes at a time. Male robins are responsible for feeding females during this time, so there is little reason for them to leave the nest.
Do you have a question about this topic that we haven't answered? Submit it below, and one of our experts will answer as soon as they can.
Get the latest BirdFacts delivered straight to your inbox
© 2022 - Bird Fact. All rights reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced without our written permission.