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Little robin redbreast sat upon a tree, and under a teapot, and by the shed...

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 04, 2013

  • The much loved robin is strongly linked with Christmas, when his song becomes plaintive and silvery – much like his wintry surroundings

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I doubt very much if there is anyone who does not know the robin, (erithacus rubecula) which surely has earned its place as Britain's best loved bird. It is today our national bird, noted for its confiding ways in our urban environments and gardens, yet for its wildness in woods and countryside.

The robin is a resident member of the thrush family, very possessive of territory which it guards fiercely from other robins. They are generally pugnacious, the males vigorously aggressive in territorial disputes. Everyone knows a robin. There is no need for me to describe the bird and it is useful that sexes are alike. Erithakos, Greek for a solitary bird, has been translated as the red-breast; ruber, Latin for red, and culus, Latin, diminutive suffix; the little red one.

The nest is built entirely by the female and is usually well hidden in vegetation on hedge banks, amidst ivy on trees or stone walls or among roots. Nests may be found in sheds and other buildings and even in old saucepans, kettles and the like.

I put an old teapot in a hedge in our garden and robins nested and raised a family beneath it, using the teapot as a roof rather than nesting within. At least they kept dry. Breeding can begin from March, a clutch of five to six eggs being usual, incubated by the female for 12 to 15 days, the young leaving the nest after about two weeks. If a second clutch should follow quickly the male will take over the care of one brood. The robin's song in summer is warm and mellow and in autumn and winter tends to be more silvery and plaintive, yet sweet nonetheless. The alarm call is a loud, penetrating "tic-tic". The song is heard all year round except during the moult in late summer.

Such a popular bird is the robin that there are many country names for it including redbreast, ruddock, reddock and ploughman's bird, while the Gaelic name is "broindergh", or red belly, and the Welsh is "yr lobel goc" for red bird. The British Ornithologists' Union formally accepted robin as an alternative to redbreast as late as 1952 – though most of us were calling it by that name years before. Strange how some organisations set themselves up to do that sort of thing. Let's hope they ask the British public for their views!

Robins tend to be benefactors in most folk traditions and are very popular as the Christmas bird. Even coats of arms, such as that of Glasgow, feature a robin, while Robin Goodfellow – the well known, mischievous goblin – wears a red suit. And we all know the story of the babes in the wood and how it was a robin that buried them with leaves.

Today a robin fed on mealworms as I stood by it, occasionally glancing up at me with its dark yet gleaming eyes. Each day it waits, warbling its song as I arrive with its breakfast, and later its supper. It roosts by our shed beneath an azalea and camellia and in spring they will bloom nearly the colour of its breast. It and another of its kind sing each day, part of the family, part of our home.

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