The Christmas Robin

As both winter and Christmas draw closer, the publication of the European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) marks the start of the festive period. Belonging to the family of chats and thrushes (Turidae), their distinctive red breasts have landed them on everything from postcards to wrapping paper. In the 1960s they even earned the coveted title of UK’s national bird. As the days grow colder and shorter, many animals go into hibernation in an effort to survive a period with less food. But not these guys, they relish the challenge. The James Cracknell’s of the animal world, they are actually present all year round, but their association with Christmas means that they are more noticed at this time of year.

The adult robin exhibits no sexual dimorphism (ie both the male and female look alike), and like many birds they are very territorial, and are quick to drive away intruders. Unusually, both the males and females sing all year round, and at night often next to street lamps. Their song in autumn differs greatly from that in spring. Both songs are used as a warning to other Robins to stay away from their territory. However the spring song is also used to attract a mate, and hence is much stronger, especially in males. Both sexes also possess the red breast, and hence are used as a deterrent to intruders not a method of courtship.

Pairs mate usually around March and remain together for the duration of the breeding season. This can be until June, depending on how many broods the pair has, with a good year producing up to four. Nest sites have been found in all sorts of unusual places, such as kettles, car bonnets, boots or anywhere that is well concealed. (Make sure to avoid going near a nest site during building and egg laying as this may cause the parents to abandon the nest if they think you are a threat). Robins are only aggressive towards other members of their own species, and it is very unusual for them to attack other birds. In fact, their parental instinct is so strong that they have even been known to feed chicks of other species. How adorable.

Digging up the ground can encourage Robins into the garden very easily. By loosening the soil, especially in winter, you provide an easy opportunity for them to find a worm or something equally appetizing crawling through the earth. Robins are also thankful for the presence of moles in your garden, as they do a similar service, the only difference being that they are moles not spades. When food becomes very scarce, robins cease being fussy in the slightest, and will often eat fatty foods such as cheese or bacon rind in an effort to survive the colder months.

Robins are strongly associated with Christmas time mainly due to postmen. In 1860, when a postman’s uniform was bright red, they were nicknamed ‘robins’, and even though they changed their uniform to blue the following year, the association has never been lost. Hence both the increase in post and awareness of the robin at Christmas is not just a coincidence. However their longevity must be due to the affections that they henceforth garnered from the general public once they came to the fore. Even though there is a high mortality rate among both juveniles and adults, their population has increased by 45% since 1970. Hopefully their numbers will continue to thrive in the coming years.

References

Centre, G. (2014). Species :: European Robin. [online] Gmwildlife.org.uk. Available at: http://www.gmwildlife.org.uk/wildlife/species/index.php?species=European%20Robin [Accessed 18 Nov. 2014].

Heehaw Multimedia – Gordon McLachlan, L. (2014). Amazing facts about robins | OneKind. [online] Onekind.org. Available at: http://www.onekind.org/be_inspired/animals_a_z/robin_european/ [Accessed 18 Nov. 2014].

Lack, D. (1960). Robins for Christmas. New Scientist, [online] (214), pp.1639-1640. Available at: http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=lEM-wNI-1BwC&pg=PA1640&lpg=PA1640&dq=robin+postman&source=bl&ots=oCP4c7mpVa&sig=Lti4oL-FeGTj-vVPrqSUiy8fxlA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=BsVrVInyO4TYONixgIAP&ved=0CEEQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=robin%20postman&f=false [Accessed 18 Nov. 2014].

The RSPB, (2014). Robin. [online] Available at: http://www.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/discoverandlearn/birdguide/name/r/robin/ [Accessed 18 Nov. 2014].

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Jamie Graham

Jamie Graham

I have recently completed my Master's in Biodiversity, Evolution and Conservation at UCL. I have a passion for nature and enjoy writing!
Jamie Graham

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