Reprint of an article that appeared in the Spring 2009 Edition of Common Ground.
For most of us the robin is a bird synonymous with Christmas, but for me he’s the symbol of Spring. This is the time when he’s at his most conspicuous; when you can’t walk through the common without failing to hear his loud call ringing out above all the other birdsongs. To our human ears it’s one of the most beautiful sounds you can hope to hear, but perhaps not so for a bird – in fact he’s angrily telling the other blokes to get off his patch! Around this time of year you’ll probably see a couple of them embarking in some pretty impressive aerial acrobatics, too, as they fight for the right to romance the local ladies. It’s just as well they’re so widespread, because they unfortunately do have a high mortality rate. If your cat (the robin’s #1 enemy) doesn’t catch him, he’s very likely to die in combat with a rival.
Its no wonder the robin has officially been our national bird since 1960. His cheeky, bold personality makes him impossible not to love. Even if you don’t clock the unmistakeable red breast, you can take it for granted that the active little bird playing on the path in front of you, or dancing around the low lying branches beside you, is a robin, as there are few birds who are as unruffled by our presence. Harder to identify is the speckled brown young robin who basically looks like any “LBJ” (little brown job). He has to wait until adulthood to gain his red breast.
It was a wise move on the robin’s part to be friendly to man, as it has definitely improved his standard of living over the centuries. Our ancestors were very fond of caging wild songbirds, but the robin managed to escape this fate – “A robin redbreast in a cage/puts all Heaven in a rage”
Although the images of robins on Christmas cards are traceable to the 1860’s, their link to theology goes way back and rumour has it that the robin got his red breast by tugging at Christ’s thorns. Apparently St Serf of Culross fed a robin who perched on his shoulder whilst he prayed, way back in the 6th century.
If you’ve been out and about at night and have heard birdsong, then you’re listening to a robin, as they love to sing by streetlights in the wee small hours. Whoever wrote the 1940’s hit “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” wasn’t too hot on his ornithology.
Gardeners amongst you may be acquainted with him keeping you company whilst you dig, in the hope that you might turn up a tasty worm for him. When it comes to choosing where to nest, no bird is as inventive as the Robin. They’ve been known to come indoors and nest in a coat pocket, a pair of wellies, and more extreme, in an unmade bed! I guess that’s quite a reasonable excuse for not getting those sheets changed!
By Bettina Cassidy.