Nature Notes: In praise of the robin – a natural choice as our national bird
SOME years ago, the robin was voted our national bird. Its confiding nature and familiarity were instrumental in achieving this status. A member of the thrush family, it is resident throughout the year.
Many continental robins supplement our own stocks, by arriving in the autumn on the east coast having migrated from Northern Europe. These birds are of a more secretive nature, lacking the boldness of our own.
The “Old English Robin Redbreast” was abbreviated to “Redbreast” but this has now been superseded by the popular name of “Robin”.
Beneath the friendly exterior the robin is a tough little customer. The plumage of both sexes is the same and only robins seem able to tell who’s who by the different behavioural patterns.
During winter, both males and females sing and have separate feeding territories. The females are able to hold their own, hurling abuse and being very aggressive to any invader that strays on their “patch”. As the days grow longer and warmer, changes in their hormones cause the females to stop singing and the male’s song becomes stronger and fuller.
He becomes more aggressive and seeks to expand his territories. Instead of reacting violently, she submits to his behaviour. In doing this the male gradually accepts her presence and a bond is formed. From then on he will defend the area leaving her to feed and build up reserves for the rigours of the breeding season.
During the initial bonding, the male becomes a most charming suitor offering her juicy tit bits and being a proper little gentleman.
This activity is known as “courtship feeding” (you've all done it fellas – bringing a box of chocs or flowers for the girlfriend). The robin’s tameness in the garden and confiding nature has endeared the British public to fall in love with it; its song being heard throughout the year except for a period in midsummer when moulting occurs.
Robins have always been surrounded by myth and superstition. To kill one was regarded as sacrilege – a feeling in the nursery rhyme “Who killed Cock Robin”.
These beliefs and the robin’s popularity as a Christmas feature stem from the legend that the robin attempted to draw nails (or alternatively remove the crown of thorns) at the crucifixion receiving for its efforts a drop of Christ’s blood and forever after bearing a red bib.
In Scotland the robin was given protection because it was thought that it carried a drop of God’s blood in its vein. The redbreast of the robin was also supposed to have originated from the scorching it suffered when it carried the primeval fire.
The sounds of the robin’s cheery song in the depths of winter, plus its confiding nature around our homes and gardens make it everyone’s first choice as our national bird and long may it continue.
I hope this article has enlightened you in respect of the bird’s lifestyle and you find them most interesting.
Remember to feed the birds and keep all feeders clean.
Dave Moore is a wildlife enthusiast from Hutton Magna