Tuesday 18 March 2014

Bush Robin Buddy

New Zealand's South Island Bush Robin -Toutouwai- is very similar to the North Island Bush Robin except that it has a yellow tinge to it's breast feathers, instead of all white, this gets darker during the breeding season. They are also very similar to the English Robin although nowhere near as bright with their white breast as opposed to a red one.

The robin is quite a large bird about the size of a black bird but it stands a lot more erect and with longer legs. The robin has a beautiful song which is heard often while walking through the bush. It's also one of our more visible birds although sometimes rather shy.

Having said that there are many birds that know when there are people about there is a free meal to be had. As we walk we are disturbing insects & our feet are scuffing up the decayed leaf litter on the forest floor exposing bugs & other insects. A robin will quickly & silently move in checking the disturbed ground for food.

At Mavora the robin's song could be heard all around camp, around the lake and especially up the back of the camp ground plateau, in the bush below the range. This bush is mainly beech trees and the forest floor is littered with fallen trees and branches which in turn are smothered in thick brilliant green moss.

We went looking for robins early on in our visit and it wasn't long after entering the bush that a robin found us. Not just any robin, this particular robin was very nosey and kept jumping in front of me as a wandered along. I moved a couple of small rotten logs and he was right in there beside me. scattering material all over the place. David carried on deeper into the forest where he located another couple of birds but I couldn't leave this guy.

He was very keen on having me move more bits of wood for him. To locate their food the robins also do a little tap dance (foot trembling) with one foot; they drum it rapidly on whatever they are standing on, it must send a vibration disturbing the bug which the bird picks up on. They do look funny doing this little dance, you can hear a tiny drrrrr as he drums his foot, he cocks his head listening and then quickly stabs his beak into the rotten wood or leaf litter grabbing a tasty morsel.

He stayed very close and watched intently as I pulled apart the wood. If he spotted something tasty he'd dart right on in, grab it and move just out of arm's reach to eat it. I found it hard to leave him that day as he was very cute and as we walked along the edge of the bush heading away from his territory he flew along with us ignoring other robins that came in to chase him. Finally we moved out into the open leaving him very intent on pulling apart and tossing bits of a large log about, one I had broken open for him.

I didn't make it back to the bush for a couple of days but when I did, I entered the bush quite a distance away from where we had seen our friendly robin, thinking I might find some rifleman before he disturbed them. But within a minute or two I spotted a movement and there flying silently in and landing a few feet away was my little buddy. I knew it was him because he was a little tatty at the base of his bill & his feathers weren't as smooth as most of the others we saw.

He also did not want to share us with any other bird. He had a little grey shadow too, a pretty little grey puffball of a robin that kept out of sight most of the time but followed my mate & I through the bush. I would disturb a few areas so she could have a scratch around too. But if my mate spotted her he'd send his little "rooster comb" high and chase her away. I think they may have been a pair as he tolerated her enough without being too aggressive. And apparently the males are very dominant during the non-breeding season. Plus she was very pretty.

I'd know what was going to happen everytime I saw him raise his hackles, I'd look around and sure enough hiding on a branch or behind a trunk not too far away was his little shadow.

She did come quite close a couple of times when my buddy was totally engrossed in hunting for food. Isn't she a sweetie?

After breaking apart a rotten log and turning a lump of moss for him, I sat down on the soft moss with my camera to get a few close up shots. He soon ignored the log and it was a great thrill when he jumped up on my shoe! How cool!

He moved down from the top & started pulling at my laces. I stayed very still..... 

Then he then spied something in the tongue of the shoe....

And he stabbed it.....with a very sharp beak! He then started pecking at my skin showing through the weave in my socks.

Next he jumped down and started pecking with a very sharp bill at a sandfly which had settled on my leg now that I was sitting in the moss (little did I know I was getting eaten alive, I was concentrating on the robin instead of all the black dots landing on me). He flitted about all around me running over my legs, grabbing sandflies in mid air and using my back as a springboard to catch them.

He found a sandfly on my shin just above my sock line and gave it a mighty peck, actually about four mighty pecks before I shooed him away. It was a little mole and he'd made it bleed. He kept returning to peck at the blood. In fact he made my leg bleed in about 4 places pecking at sandflies & moles. I have a video of him but I can't upload it due to data restrictions, hopefully I can do it next time we have wi-fi at someone's home. I'll post a link if I do (see bottom of the blog post for the link).

It was a few hours before I could drag myself away from enjoying this little character's company, he again followed me right along the bush line willing me to stay & play.

It was another couple of days before I returned to the bush and this time he took awhile to turn up. I caught a movement out the corner of my eye and there he was sitting on a trunk that I'd lent my pack on. Next he was on the pack checking that out.

Before he came close again he must have heard something because he flew onto a log and stretched himself tall looking about, probably for his little shadow, nothing in view so he jumped down and came close to my shoe again.

He started pecking at stuff stuck in the sole before jumping up on the top but before he could do any damage I saw his rooster comb puff up; he had spied his mate. I hadn't even see her fly in.

This time she had crept up very close & was hanging onto a branch just a couple of feet behind me. She didn't stay long before he chased her away again. Two beautiful dark grey birds effortlessly, silently & very fast, swooping through the bush weaving in and out of the trees. And before long he was back.

I went to see him one last time before we left the lakes, he only came to check me out for a minute or two before flying back down to the bush edge where a family had set up a tent. I didn't feel so bad leaving him then; he obviously makes friends easily.

Here's the You Tube link to the video -  Robin Antics


  1. A wonderful story, thanks, Shelly. And beautiful pictures. What a busy life he leads. I suppose these 2 will teach their offspring how to get food this way.

    1. Hi Olwen, back in the land of the internet again! Trust me, treasure your land line connection! :) Glad you enjoyed my bush buddy's story, he was a sweetie.


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