Here in Britain the robin is special to us. Everybody here knows what it looks like, with its red breast. Everybody’s seen it and heard it in parks and gardens. Such a pretty little bird with such a sweet little song.
The European robin (Erithacus rubecula) is native and widespread in Britain, continental Europe, parts of North Africa and parts of Western Asia. It can become very tame in gardens here, but less so in some other European countries. Here’s a film about tame garden robins.
In Britain, the robin is a protected species, but sometimes people do get permission to kill robins. Even when the birds aren’t killing each other. This bird may look sweet but there’s a reason why you almost always see it on its own: male robins are vicious. Here’s another film, this one showing how David Lack found out what robins are really like.
At this time of year we give each other robin pictures, decorate cakes with model robins, play with children’s toy robins. Winter wouldn’t be winter without the robin. Here’s another film, this one about robin folklore. I particularly like the bit about robins on Christmas cards. Not so long ago, postmen wore red tunics so they were called ‘robins’ and people made cards in which the robin delivered Christmas greetings.
E. rubecula is so dear to British people, such a symbol of home, that our ancestors introduced it into other countries and named many birds after it. The American robin (Turdus migratorius), the Indian robin (Saxicoloides fulicatus), the Indian blue robin-chat (Luscinia brunnea), the Cape robin-chat (Cossypha caffra)… it’s like a history of my ancestors’ colonialism, isn’t it? If you’re reading this from outside my country, no doubt you can add to my list of robin species.
But today I’m thinking about E. rubecula. I’ll end with a rendition by a fellow blogger of a classic robin poem, The North Wind Doth Blow.