The red breast of adult Robins is instantly recognisable, making this species one of the most straightforward to identify. Juvenile Robins lack the red breast and have brown upper parts and breast speckled with dark brown. Bit by bit, the red breast starts to appear in late summer, but even in juvenile plumage the round shape, long legs and cocked head postures are characteristically 'Robin' in nature. Robins have a delightful musical song, flutey in nature and pitched higher than that of a Blackbird. Being territorial all year-round means that Robin song can be heard throughout the winter months, and Robins can often be heard singing at night throughout the year, prompted by street lighting.
Almost all other European common names for this delightful bird simply mean 'red-breast' and so it is interesting to speculate how the English name of 'Robin' came into being. Use of the name 'Robin' is relatively recent, with the British Ornithologist's Union official list accepting 'Robin' only as recently as 1952. Historically, the name 'Ruddoc' was used by the Anglo-Saxons but by the Middle Ages, the name 'redbreast' was in use. The 'Robin' component was added later (sometime in the 15th or 16th Century) and appears to be an affectionate nickname associating the bird with the legends of Robin Goodfellow and Robin Hood.
Most of our breeding Robins are sedentary in nature, although some will disperse to breed in a new area. Some individuals appear to undertake migratory movements and many Robins from colder countries like Scandinavia and Finland will pass through Britain in the autumn en route to Iberia or North Africa. Some of these birds will remain in Britain for the winter.
Robins defend territories throughout the year and Robin song can be heard both in winter and summer. During the winter, both sexes sing a rather weak and liquid song. It is during spring that the beautiful breeding season song can first be heard, the male establishing his territorial boundaries. Robins can be surprisingly aggressive. The red breast (associated with fire-bringing and the cross in legend) plays an important part in the threat display and is held so that an intruding Robin sees as much of the territory holder's breast as possible. If the display song and posturing fail to drive an intruding Robin away, then a territory holder may resort to an all-out attack and such attacks can sometimes result in the death of one individual.
Making the most of BirdTrack data
We have been working to produce useful summaries for bird reports using data from the millions of annual BirdTrack records.
Avoiding tunnel vision during a PhD
Sophie Bennett reflects on her recent three month placement at the BTO and the value of taking a step back from a PhD.