Nothing says ‘Garden Bird’ better than the Robin (Erithacus rubicella), this weeks MBOW.
Ah, Robin Redbreast. The Gardener’s Friend. Beloved of Christmas Card manufacturers right back to the first cards in Victorian times. A bird of unquestionable personality and charm.
There’s no other bird, in my opinion, that has better adapted to living around people. While sparrows and blackbirds may also utilise our gardens, the sparrow was even first, it is the Robin that impresses on our conscious. This is in part because it seems to grasp better than others that we feed it. They will happily take food from the hand, and even enter houses to look for a hand-out. If you are digging the garden over, they will sit nearby, dropping to your feet at the first sign of a tasty invertebrate!
Their presence on Christmas cards relates to their famed red-breast (Redbreast incidentally was the original common name. This became Robin Redbreast, then just Robin). Postmen wore a red uniform and were known as ‘Redbreasts’, so it made sense to use their namesake on the cards they delivered. Some cards even equip the Robin with a postbag, and a beakful of mail.
Anthropomorphism plays a big part in their personality. They sit outside, bowing and bobbing, apparently drawing our attention. We see human characteristics in their behaviour, and that endears them to us.
Of course, often they are drawing our attention. The Robin I’ve featured here was on a nature reserve, Martin Mere. He was so used to birders that would throw him the occasional crumb of their lunch that he would sit mere feet away and shout at you till you fed him. I’ve seen similar at other reserves (there’s one at Leighton Moss famed for waiting around the spot patient twitchers lurk hoping for a glimpse of Bearded Tits).
At home, in our previous house, we had a Robin that would clearly check through the windows to see if you were in. If you were, and the food levels were low, he would hop around the patio into you came out and put food down. It’s this sort of dependency that makes us love them.
There is an argument to be made that Robins, and some birds, have become too dependant on us. But I’d reject this. Around 80% of the British landscape is now ‘developed’ (either in terms of being built on, or being home to farmland and managed woodland plantations). So adaptation to human activity is a vital evolutionary response for survival. Hence, keep feeding your birds!
Scientifically, Robins sit with Redstarts, Wheatears, and Stonechats (a group known as Chats). Hopefully I will cover other Chats as this series moves on. But for the next few weeks MBOW is going to focus on garden birds. Next week it’ll be the flirty, dirty Dunnock!