Erithacus rubecula or the European Robin is a widespread and ubiquitous bird that is very familiar to all of us – it is common in gardens, parks and woodland and is famously associated with Christmas. For a bird so frequently encountered you may be surprised by how much of its life is unknown to most of us, so here are a few curious facts about this delightful bird.
- The average lifespan of a Robin is only a little over a year – though individuals have been known to survive for over a decade.
- Robins sing year-round; which is unusual amongst birds, more unusual though is that female Robins will also sing and keep territories of their own.
- British Robins are somewhat unique in that they can be very tame around humans – Robins just over the channel are known as shy birds confined to woodlands.
- Some (but not all) Robins migrate; many in north and central Europe fly south to the Mediterranean or even north Africa for the winter.
- When Robins fight a rival that has intruded into their territory they can be very violent and may kill their opponent – some have even been seen to consume dead birds and other carrion in winter (they are omnivores and cannot be blamed for exploiting any food source in the cold months).
- Despite Robins fiercely protecting their territories, they very often sneak quietly into a neighbours patch to feed, if the owner notices them they will retreat without protest but often return after only a few minutes.
- The Robin was originally called the Redbreast and later the prefix ‘robin’ was added (this was a habit in medieval times to place a human name in front of the birds common name, other examples include the ‘Maggie-pie’) – over time though the original ‘redbreast’ part was dropped.
- Folklore says that to kill a Robin or destroy its nest will bring you bad luck for the rest of your days – the people of the Mediterranean seem to have forgotten this for they eat Robins by the hundred; claiming its flesh is delicious (no wonder then that continental Robins are shy).
- Robins have been known to be able to recognise individual humans – one observer who tamed a Robin by feeding it left his house for six months, upon returning he went into his garden and the Robin immediately flew upon his shoulder expecting food – even after all that time.
- So why are Robins associated with the festive season? Well one explanation is that their pretty red breasts brighten up the grey winter days, but another theory goes back to the Victorians. Christmas cards would be delivered by postmen – who in those days wore bright red jackets and thus were nick-named ‘robin-redbreasts’, cards back then would sometimes show a postman delivering Christmas cards and parcels to a quaint country cottage in the snow. But cards began to depict the actual bird to represent the postman; who brung joy in the form of cards from friends – it has stuck ever since.
I will not be posting again this week as it is Christmas but you should hear from me next Monday – so glad tidings and goodwill to all men and women!