The Robin

Is there a more inquisitive bird than the very popular Robin? Watching you gardening or simply wandering by, the Robin seems to be a serious observer. Of course taking advantage of unearthed worms, the Robin is the ever present companion in so many gardens.

And what would Christmas be like without the Robin Redbreast adorning so many Christmas Cards? It is almost as big a part of Christmas as Mince Pies and presents.

Photo: Rita Andrews

The Robin is the bird who sings for most of the year. Take a walk on New Year’s Day and the one bird you will hear will be the Robin and it is the one that constantly sings through most of the coming twelve months seemingly for the pleasure it gives them.
Their singing ability is not rated as highly as the blackbird or the song thrush but their brief, measured phrases, methodically sung enriches our surroundings. During Autumn after they have moulted the Robin sounds rather sad and wistful whereas around Christmas, when it is adorning so many Christmas Cards, the song is stronger and more vigorous. I have been stood on a pavement at 04:15 on an April morning, waiting to be picked up to go to the AWT Dawn Chorus, and the Robin is already singing!

Around the March/April period the Robin starts to get really serious about its singing. It is time to secure a territory and a mate. Life become importantly serious. Soon the birds get down to raising a family. The ritual of making a nest, laying eggs and, when they have hatched, flying to and fro with food for their brood of hungry chicks..

The juvenile Robin is a speckled, brownish creature, whose plump body and black, beady eyes are the only clues to its parentage. The fledging period is fraught with danger when predatory magpies and jays take advantage of the exposed, open Robin nests. So many of the young Robins fall victim this way. 
Luckily many obviously survive as when it comes to numbers the Robin is second only to the wren in the UK and it has been estimated that there are over seven million pairs in the UK. Although they have a very short lifespan compared to other species generally only living between one and two years.

Physically a Robin is smaller than a sparrow with a build somewhere between a sparrow and a warbler with uniform brown on the upper parts, an orange-red breast and a white abdomen. The eyes are black. A typical Robin is around 14 cm 95 and a half inches) long/tall and has a wingspan of around 21cm (just over 8 inches). It weighs in at 18 grams making it slightly heavier than two one pound coins.

Both the female and male have a similar silhouette making it virtually impossible for us to tell them apart. Hopefully they know who is Robin and who is Robyn!

The Robin is not solely a British bird. On the European continent it can be found anywhere between Gibraltar in the south to beyond the Arctic Circle in the north. 
Up to 1952 the British Ornithologist’s Union checklist still showed the species' official name as ‘Redbreast’. Robin was originally a nickname like ‘Jenny Wren’ and ‘Tom Tit’. The first written reference to the bird name ‘Robin’ was in a Scots poem written anonymously in 1549. The ‘redbreast’ is more orange but this description was recorded around one hundred years before the word ‘orange’, meaning a colour between red and yellow, was first used in 1557.

Aside from the Robins we see in the gardens or countryside is the bird expressed through poetry and prose. Robins are seemingly more embedded in our culture than the Skylark and the Nightingale. What is more, there is a higher chance of seeing a Robin rather than a Nightingale in Berkeley Square!

Art thou the bird whom man loves best,
The pious bird with the scarlet breast,
Our little English Robin...

"The Redbreast chasing the butterfly"
William Wordsworth 1806

Writers from Chaucer and Shakespeare onto Anne and Emily Bronte, Robert Burns, William Wordsworth & Ted Hughes to name a few have mentioned Robins in the poetry and prose. However critics say there are no truly great Robin poems. The great poems featuring birds are written mainly about heroic, elusive creatures like the aforementioned Nightingale and Skylark. Despite this we simply love the Robin.
Andrew Harrison
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