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We have six young robins, but a female blackbird has taken to sitting with them. Is this normal?

Sent in by Phil Butcher, Ilford Essex

Funnily enough, this is something the Wildlife Enquiries team have received several calls about in recent weeks.

I wouldn’t describe this as a 'normal' behaviour, but there is perhaps a more logical explanation to this. The most likely cause is that the blackbird’s nest has been abandoned due to disturbance, destruction, predation of the adult male or a lack of food availability. The female blackbirds parental instinct will be exceptionally strong at this time as an urge to tend to her young. The stimulus of seeing these other chicks calling in the nest for feed activates the instinctive response to brood the young robins when her own have been lost.

The safety of these young robin chicks will all depend on the temperament of the female blackbird. Some blackbirds can be highly aggressive and drive all other birds away. Some may not really know what all the fuss is about without any intent to harm the young and as such, may deny the true parents access to the nest at a time when every meal is critical for their chances of survival. Whereas others may be far more placid and if anything, bring additional food for the young which obviously improves the chances of survival. 

Inter-species brooding like this is most often reported amongst thrushes. However, we have also had reports of blackbirds sticking their heads in the nestboxes of blue tits to feed their young! Perhaps the most famous bird to parasitize the nests of other species is the cuckoo, which rather than being broody, will intentionally leave its eggs in the nests of dunnocks, reed warblers and meadow pipits.

We’d love to see and hear about more examples of this behaviour. Any chance you could share your pictures with us on the our online community?

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