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Why is the robin the most ‘British’ garden bird?

November 5, 2015
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OF THE MANY KINDS OF SWEET SOUNDING GARDEN BIRDS in a typical British garden, the robin arguably takes a special place in the hearts of British people due to its affectionate disposition towards humans as well as its presence throughout the year. We have seen robins made into icons and mascots, the most significant of which is for Christmas, the biggest festive season in Britain. What is it about the robin that makes it particularly ‘British’?

Garden Friends

ASIDE FROM THEIR BEAUTIFUL WARBLING, robins are well liked due to their affectionate nature. Undaunted when approaching gardeners digging soil to scour for insects and eating food out of people’s hands, robins are unusually at ease around humans in contrast to other garden birds. Combined with the fact that they are often seen in most British gardens as well as being visible even during winter, bringing flashes of colour to the usually monochrome frosty scenes, it is no wonder that these endearing robins have been assimilated into British culture and ultimately the British national identity.

Aggression

ALTHOUGH NOT A WELL-KNOWN FACT, the robin is actually a rather aggressive and defensive bird when it comes to matters of territorial disputes, contrary to its cute and cuddly appearance. Robins are one of the few bird species that will defend its territory even during winter and persistently sing throughout the year because males do not migrate in the winter, through which they have to survive the three cruelest months of the year. Perhaps British people identify with the robin’s hardened life as a result of harsh conditions. They are also known to violently attack stuffed robins and even red feathers left in its territory, but to be fair all kinds of birds are aggressive when it comes to defending their territory. This aggressive reputation probably emerged due to juxtaposing it with their friendly and endearing image.

The Red Breast

THE ROBIN'S DISTINGUISHING FEATURE is that of its bright red breast, the purpose of which is not for courtship unlike many other birds, but for territorial defence. In fact, the characteristic bright red hue triggers territorial behaviour, and is crucial in intimidating other robins and birds. Additionally, the robin’s aggressive posture allows it to show as much of its red breast as possible to intruders. The robin’s red breast has been significantly incorporated into British folklore, nursery rhymes and beliefs, thus making red-breasted robins particularly identifiable and memorable even to young British children. The robin’s aggressive territorial behaviour as well as its recognisable proudly puffed-out red-breast embodies Britain’s long history of being very defensive towards potential intruders as well as the generally nationalist British identity, spirit and pride to some extent.

Your thoughts. Why do you think the robin resonates so strongly with Britons?

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1 comment

  1. Hi Judith, what lovely signs of spirng I found when opening your post. The robin is beautiful and a sure sign spirng is on its way. The flowers make the perfect mosaic, so full of color. Happy spirng my friend!~EmilyThe French Hutch