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.

Most of us don’t want to hurt robins. We just like seeing them. Some of us like to feed them.

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.


About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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2 Responses to Robins

  1. narf77 says:

    We have 4 species of Robin in Tasmania and one of them, the Dusky Robin (Melanodryas vittata) is endemic here. The other 3, Flame Robin (Petroica phoenicea), Scarlet Robin (Petroica multicolor/boodang) and Pink Robin (Petroica rodinogaster) are all represented in reasonable numbers. We get the Flame Robin making appearances on Serendipity Farm to take advantage of our water bowls.

  2. argylesock says:

    Goofle has now shown me a picture of Melanodryas vittata and I’m entertained to see that it’s been classified by molecular evidence, not merely named ‘robin’ for a red breast. Esp since it doesn’t have a red breast! Is that why its alternative name is Sad Robin?

    With Petroica phoenicea, Petroica multicolor and Petroica rodinogaster the name ‘robin’ is easier to understand. What lovely colourful birds you have in your country! My favourite, just from the photos, is P. rodinogaster – a proper poof’s bird 😉

    Anyway, what do you mean by ‘endemic’ birds? To me ‘endemic’ is about infectious disease. A disease that’s common and that isn’t going away, like malaria (Plasmodium falciparum) in many tropical countries. Endemic diseases contrast with epidemic diseases which sweep through a population, like new strains of influenza (Orthomyxoviridae). But when you’re talking about birds, you mean something different I think.

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