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Robin

European Robin Robin Both Sexes
Brown upperparts and red breast.
Distribution map - when and where you are most likely to see the species.
Erithacus rubecula
Length: 13-14 cm  (5")
Wing Span: 20-22 cm  (8-9")
Weight: 16-22 g  (½-¾ oz)
Breeding Pairs: 4 200 000
Present: All Year
Status: Green

Description

The National Bird and a common favourite, the Robin is easily recognised by most people.

The Robin is a plump bird with bright orange-red breast, face, throat and cheeks edged with grey, a white belly and olive-brown upper parts. 

The sexes are very similar, if not identical, though some texts suggest that the brown forehead is "V" shaped in females, and "U" shaped in males, though even this is not always apparent. They have a brown bill and legs.

The juvenile Robin has speckled buff-brown upper parts and underparts. They have no red feathers so that adult birds do not attack them in territorial disputes. The speckled feathers are lost in a partial moult when the bird is about two to three months old.

In the winter, resident birds are joined by immigrants from continental Europe, mostly from Scandinavia; these Robins are paler than ours, have a duller red breast. The immigrants are also generally less tame because they skulk in woodlands, only British Robins are a tame garden bird.

Robins are territorial all year round; during the spring and summer this territoriality is for breeding, but at other times individual robins hold territories for feeding. Robins will defend their territories to the death, and so in the poem "Who killed Cock Robin?", another Robin rather than a sparrow would be more likely:

Who killed Cock Robin?
I said the Sparrow,
With my bow and arrow,
And I killed Cock Robin.

Voice

Choose from Quicktime and mp3. Song Alarm Call
  Quicktime mp3 Quicktime mp3

Robins are rarely seen or heard during midsummer (July-August) when they are moulting and become rather retiring.

At other times they can usually be heard singing their melodious warbling song from strategic perches, often quite high up; it sounds like "twiddle-oo, twiddle-eedee, twiddle-oo twiddle". In the winter, it can sound wistful, some say mournful, but around Christmastime the song becomes stronger and more passionate.

They will sing all through the night and this often leads to them being incorrectly identified as a Nightingale. This has been thought to be caused by streetlights making them believe it is still daytime, but the latest theory is that they are singing when it is quieter, when the hubbub of urban life has quietened and their song can be heard.

The alarm call is a loud ticking call.

Feeding

The Robin's diet is principally insects and worms, which it will normally catch by swooping, that is to say, snatching its prey on the ground after watching for movement from a perch above. They will also often follow a gardener that is digging the soil over for any easy pickings (see Commensal Feeding).

In the garden, the Robin has a sweet tooth and often takes cake, especially fruit cake, coconut cake and uncooked pastry. At other times, sunflower hearts are eaten. Mealworms are a firm favourite, which they will often take from the hand.

Robins, both males and females, hold their own separate feeding territories in the winter, which they defend vigorously. By around Christmas, many will have paired up. Initially, they do not spend much time together, merely tolerate one another, but will remain together until the following autumn moult.

Nesting

The nest is made from grass, moss and dead leaves, lined with hair and wool, and usually in a hole in a tree stump, bank or wall, but more unusual locations such as kettles, cars, and coat pockets have been used. An open-fronted nest box may be used.

The smooth, non-glossy eggs are white or pale blue with reddish spots, and about 20 mm by 15 mm. Incubation is by the female only. The young are fed by both parents.

Breeding Data
Breeding Starts Number of Clutches Number of Eggs Incubation (days) Fledge (days)
late March 2-3 3-9 12-15 12-15

Movements

British Robins are mostly sedentary though a few migrate to Spain and Portugal for the winter. Juveniles disperse from their natal sites in May but very rarely move further than a few kilometres (miles).

In the winter, British birds are joined by continental birds, mostly from Scandinavia.

Conservation

Cold winters seriously affect the Robin population, but otherwise the British population is doing well.

My Garden

Graph of garden visits.

In 1999, for the first time, a pair of Robins built a nest in our open-fronted nest box. Unfortunately, the Robins never used it, though they remained in and around the garden.

The chart shows that the Robins' visits fall off during the moult in midsummer.

The Robins do not tolerate some other species:

Further Reading

"Robins", Whittet Books (details)
"Redbreast: the Robin in Life and Literature" by Andrew Lack, 2008, SMH books


Last revision: 26 Dec 2014
Copyright © David Gains 1999-2015.
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