The robin that learned to go fishing in winter

   A flash of colour lights up the stream for a brief moment on a bleak February day, and a small bird carries off a slippery meal. The flash is not the electric blue of a kingfisher this time, but the red flush of a robin's breast.

Most of the insects, spiders, woodlice and worms that the robin normally feeds on are hidden away for winter, and in the few hours of daylight, food is hard to find. This robin has learned to fish. Perhaps it picked up the idea from a neighbouring kingfisher, for its first attempts were to pluck fish from the shallows where they fled after the kingfisher dived.

   Now it has discovered that it can drive the fish into the shallows by hovering above the water. Then it stands breast high in the shallows and plucks fish from the water like a heron. Robins find their prey by seeing movement, and this one has learned to allow for the fish's position being distorted by the water. It catches small fish such as minnows and carries away those it can keep hold of, beating them senseless before swallowing them whole, head first.

   Any robin that can, like this one, find a new food supply will increase its chances of survival through winter. But probably too few live where they have the opportunity to fish. Other song birds sometimes fish - wrens have been known to take troutlets from hatcheries, and blackbirds take tadpoles from garden ponds.