Surrey Wildlife Trust on the UK’s favourite bird

Robin (Erithacus rubecula) adult perched on spade handle in winter, Scotland, UK

Robin (Erithacus rubecula) adult perched on spade handle in winter, Scotland, UK - Credit: Mark Hamblin/2020VISION

Surrey Wildlife Trust’s Simon Prichard takes a look at the nation’s red-breasted favourite

According to a poll in 2015, the robin is the UK's favourite bird. There's no doubting its popularity at this time of year, when it seems to adorn every other Christmas card. However, our familiar symbol of seasonal merriment is in fact a highly territorial creature, which will defend its territory fiercely.

Robins make their presence felt all year round with their loud song, which is heard in gardens, parks, scrub and woodland. They will even sing at night next to street lamps. Both males and females hold territories throughout the winter, driving away intruders and sometimes fighting. During the breeding season, which begins in March, the female is allowed into the male's territory, where she builds a nest of dead leaves, moss and hair. She may choose an unusual site, such as a plant pot or old boot, but ivy and other shrubs are more common.

Of course the robin's appearance is unmistakeable: brown above, with a white belly and a famously red breast. Adult males and females look identical, but young robins are mottled gold and brown, with no sign of red.

Since Victorian times, the robin has become strongly associated with Christmas, taking pride of place on numberless Christmas cards and many special edition postage stamps. An old British folk tale may explain this. It says that when Jesus was dying on the cross, the robin, which was then a plain brown colour, flew to his side and sang to comfort him. The blood from his wounds stained the bird's breast red - and the colouring was passed on to all its descendants.

However, the Christmas link is more likely to be from the red jackets worn by 19th century postmen, who were nicknamed 'robin red-breasts'. Whatever the reason, you can help robins enjoy a happy Christmas by providing food and water for them in your garden.

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