Hugely territorial and something of a bully, the European robin (Erithacus rubecula) is nonetheless the nation’s favourite bird. Also known as robin red breasts, these birds may look apprealing but will fight with incredible ferocity to defend their feeding grounds. Around 14cm in length and weighing 18g, robins can be seen in parks, gardens, scrubland and woodland throughout the year. These birds are brown with white bellies and red breasts. However, young birds are mottled gold and brown without the distinctive splash of red.
Robins fall silent for much of the summer but at other times you can hear their melodious warbling song which sounds something like "twiddle-oo, twiddle-eedee, twiddle-oo twiddle". Some say that their song becomes more passionate and plaintive during the festive season.
What is the robin’s distribution and population?
Robins are common throughout the UK and in the winter, residents may be joined by migrants from mainland Europe, principally Scandinavia. The visiting robins can be distinguished from native birds by their paler breasts. Migrant birds are usually less tame than the natives and don’t end to visit gardens. British robins are largely resident but a small minority, usually females, migrate to southern Europe during winter and can travel as far as southern Spain.
Surveys indicate that the robin population is increasing in the UK. This may be due to the prevalence of garden feeders and improvements in agricultural practices. The RSPB estimates that there are approximately 6, 700, 000 breeding pairs across the country.
What do robins eat?
The Robin's diet is principally insects and worms. The birds watch for movement from a suitable perch and then swoop down to grab their meal. They may position themselves close to gardeners who are digging to benefit from easy pickings. Robins have a sweet tooth which means they will take cake and pastry from bird tables. They also love fatty treats including suet fat balls and appreciate both sunflower hearts and mealworms.
Where do robins nest?
Robins fashion their nests from grass, moss and dead leaves. The nests are lined with hair and wool and are usually built in holes that they find in tree stumps, banks or walls. Robins may also choose more unusual locations including kettles, cars, plant posts, shelves and even coat pockets. If you would like to provide nesting boxes for robins, they require open-fronted styles. Only females incubate the eggs, but the chicks are fed by both parents. The incubation period is 12 to 13 days and the chicks fledge after roughly 13 days.
Did you know?
- Robins have been associated with Christmas since Victorian times. It is thought that their appearance on Christmas cards was inspired by Victorian postmen who were known as Robin red breasts due to their red waistcoats.
- The robin was declared Britain’s National Bird on 15 December 1960.
- Many attempts have been made to introduce robins to America, Australia and New Zealand but all have failed.
Interesting Facts About Robins
The robin is one of Britain's best loved birds. These chirpy little visitors to our gardens are always a welcome sight but it is easy to take them for granted. Here are some facts about robins which might help to understand your feathered friends a little better.
- Juvenile robins don't have a red breast. The distinctive red feathers don't appear until after the first moult.
- British robins tend to stay living close to where they were hatched but Scandinavian robins migrate to the Mediterranean for the winter. It sounds like they have the right idea!
- Towards the end of the Victorian era, robin skins unfortunately became rather popular as decorative features of ladies' hats! How awful!
- Until early in the last century, the robin was generally known as the redbreast.
- The robin is a member of the thrush family and so is also a relative of the blackbird and the nightingale.
- Both male and female robins are territorial and hold their territories during the winter rather than just when breeding. Both sexes of bird sing the same winter song.
- The robin is Britain's national bird and was declared as such 15 December 1960.
- British postmen gained the nickname robin or redbreast because of their red coats.
- Robins don't tend to live very long. The oldest bird recorded only made it to its eighth birthday.
- The recovery of ringed birds has indicated that the most common cause of premature death in robins is being killed by a cat. Oh dear!
- Robins often sing at night which is why they can be mistaken for nightingales.
- Pairs of robins will try to raise three broods each year and some manage as many as five. They are busy little birds!
- There are other species of bird around the world which are referred to as robins but none of these are related to the British robin.
- Robins are present throughout the whole of the UK, including the majority of our offshore islands.
- Every robin boasts a unique breast pattern and so it is possible to recognise individuals if you are interested in learning if the same birds are visiting your garden and feeders. However, it is very difficult to tell one bird from another so good luck!
- Robins are omnivorous birds meaning that they will eat seeds, fruit and insects.
- Attempts to introduce robins to America, Australia and New Zealand have all failed.
- Robins are so territorial that they will defend their patch from other robins to the death.
- British robins will not use our typical nesting boxes with round entrance holes. But they will nest in boxes with open fronts. If you wish to attract robins to your garden, you will need this type of bird house.
- A robin's favourite food is mealworms.
- Whilst continental robins are shy and unapproachable, British robins are notable for their tameness.
Have you seen robins in your garden lately and have you been able to recognise individual birds by their breast markings?