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Would a male robin feed its mate, or could it be a youngster from an early brood?

Sent in by Elizabeth Jones, Barton-on-Sea

Since robins start to lay eggs for their first clutch in late March, it is possible to have fledglings at this time of the year. However, a fledgling robin does not have a red breast - it will get this only as it moults in the late summer or autumn. If both birds you saw had a red breast, they would have been adults, and what you witnessed will have been courtship feeding, with the male feeding the female.

Courtship feeding occurs in many species of birds, and it has two main functions. At first, it is the bird equivalent of a box of chocolates or a bunch of flowers - a means for the male to woo the female and strengthen and maintain the pair bond. Later on, as the female is laying eggs, the food provided by the male can make up a significant proportion of her diet during a period when she needs extra energy for the egg production.

In robins, courtship feeding starts a couple of days before she lays the first egg, and continues through the incubation, which is by the female alone. With around 30-50 feeds per day, the male is making a significant commitment to his mate and the offspring already before the chicks hatch. After hatching, both parents will be fully occupied feeding their hungry young for the following two weeks. Since robins can have three broods in a season, courtship feeding can be seen well into the summer, and is a clear indication that the pair are in the early stages of nesting.

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