Back at the end of April I remarked that the robin (Erithacus rubecula), our regular garden visitor, hadn't been seen for two weeks, though we'd seen him almost every day since late 2014. In those early days, he didn't understand the glass dish we put mealworms in for him; he could see them wriggling and tried to peck at them from the outside of the dish.
We got used to having him about and settled into a routine of rubbing along together. There was a brief gap in attendance in early summer 2015, when he lost a rather spectacular and, to us, exhausting territory dispute, which involved frequent high speed chases around the courtyard, but his usurper eventually disappeared and he returned in autumn to re-establish his territory. Our old routine of offering food resumed, and apart from a few days here and there, he visited every day. Then in mid-April, he became aloof for a week or so before he disappeared. I thought we'd seen the last of him and was sorry that he'd gone.
In early August he suddenly reappeared, flying to a favourite perch in the garage and from there to his usual spot for mealworms. We didn't have any stock at that point, and offered seed instead, which he accepted. He was looking scruffy and rather thin and we wondered what had caused him to leave such a well-provisioned life. After all he had an undisputed territory, a mate, shelter, fresh water, plenty of food. Why would he leave? In the interim no other robin took over his patch so he didn't need to fight regain it. Since his return, he has eaten regularly and seems to have put on weight. His scruffy demeanour improved athough returned briefly when he moulted – he's looking smart again now.
We'll never know what he got up to in his four-month absence, or where he went, but it's good to see him back. He's dropped straight back into his old routine and recognises the few phrases we've habitually used. Calling out 'mealworms' elicits a quick bob and on hearing the invitation, 'come on then' he'll fly from the woodshed into the garage and onto the day's favoured perch.
There is no fathoming the ways of a wild bird. The more we see of them the stranger they become and this one continues to puzzle us.
RHS wildlife gardening advice