The Robin - Britain's Favourite Bird
The robin is arguably the most familiar British garden bird of all and with its confiding nature and attractive plumage it has endeared itself to generations of gardeners. Other birds are just as conspicuous in winter yet it is the robin that is most associated with Christmas.
When the first Christmas cards were sent in the mid-19th century they were delivered by postmen wearing bright red coats. These postmen were nicknamed “robins” or “redbreasts” and the most popular early cards depicted robins who represented them.
Another explanation comes from the old English legend that the robin got his redbreast when he was pierced by a thorn from Christ’s crown as he hung from the cross. However, as it was much later that Christmas cards began to show religious images it is more likely that the first explanation is correct and the second was added after.
In Victorian times robins were even killed to provide feathers for decorating Christmas cards. Today, we are much fonder of the robin and in the 1960s it was voted Britain’s favourite bird although it was never officially adopted as the national bird. In 2015 there was another survey to find Britain’s national bird with the robin once again topping the poll. This time the organiser intends to ask the government to officially recognise the robin as Britain’s national bird.
Despite it’s cheerful nature the robin is quite an aggressive species with males sometimes fighting to the death to defend their territory. Unlike many other birds robins remain on their own during autumn and winter and will sing to proclaim their territory. What sounds like a cheerful winter song to us is actually a warning to other robins who come too close.
Male and female robins are virtually identical in appearance with a brown crown, wings, upperparts and tail, a grey band along the sides of the breast, a white belly and of course the famous “red breast”, which is really a deep orange colour. Young birds have no red in their plumage and are a rather dull, spotty brown colour.
Robins breed from March to August and build a cup-shaped nest made from grass and leaves and lined with hair. They usually lay 2 broods of 4-6 pale blue eggs lightly spotted with red. chicks will leave the nest after a couple of weeks. They will often build nests in terracotta plant pots, wellington boots and even post boxes.
Robins are found in most gardens and are one of the tamest wild birds, happily feeding alongside gardeners as they work. They will even take live food such as worms from the hand. In very harsh winters they will become even more confiding as they are vulnerable to food shortages caused by ice and snow. As well as insects robins will also feed on seeds and fruit particularly in the winter.