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European Robin

Latin Name: Erithacus Rubecula

also known as: The Robin or Robin Redbreast

The UK's favourite bird with its bright red breast, it is familiar throughout the year and is especially associated with Christmas (appearing on most Christmas Cards). The red breast on the adults is not for mating purposes, but for territory defence, and have endeared them to the British public, that in 1960 and again in 2015, they were crowned the UK's national bird.


Males and females look identical, and have the orange breast and face lined by a bluish grey on the sides of the neck and chest. The upperparts are brown/olive tinged and the belly whitish, legs and feet are brown. The bill and eyes are black.  Young birds have no 'red' breast but are spotted golden brown and white in colouration, with patches of orange gradually appearing.

Robins sing all year round and are one of the only UK birds to be heard singing in the garden on Christmas Day. This is due to the importance of holding territories all year round. Males may hold the same territory throughout their lives and will even attack a bundle of red feathers or their own reflection. Only for a short period in late summer, while they are moulting and inconspicuous, will they fall silent. Both the male and female sing. The song is usually delivered from a concealed perch within a bush or a tree. Autumn and spring songs are distinctly different. The autumn song starts after they moult, from late summer onwards, it is more melancholy and subdued in tone. The spring song on the other hand is powerful, confident and upbeat and can start as early as mid-December. Its purpose is to both defend its territory and to attract a mate, therefore the males song is far more powerful.

Robins are adapted to life in poor light and are often active in half-light when few other birds are about. They tend to be among the earliest birds to start the dawn chorus and one of the last to stop. Street lights and floodlights can trigger singing in the middle of the night, and if roosting robins are disturbed, they can burst into song even in complete darkness.

Most nests are located on or near the ground in hollows, nooks and crannies, climbing plants, hedgebanks, tree roots, piles of logs and any other situations that provide a fully concealed cavity. They are famous for nesting in all kinds of unlikely locations including sheds, kettles, boots, hanging baskets, coat pockets, under car bonnets, in farm machinery and even in boats. The 'cup' shaped nest is built by the female using dead leaves and moss and it is lined with hair. Courtship feeding is a very prominent activity, and the male can supply over a third of his mates food intake during nest building and egg laying. How well she is fed can make a difference to the clutch size. A normal clutch is 4-6 eggs, with one egg being laid each day, usually early in the morning. Once all eggs are laid, incubation takes place and takes about 13 days. The shells of the hatched eggs are thrown out the nest by the female, she sometimes eats part of them for extra calcium.

The chicks hatch naked and are totally dependent on their parents for food and warmth. Both parents are involved in the parenting process in the first 14 days up to when they fledge. Feather growth starts in 3 days, being nearly completely feathered by day 10, the flight feathers are the last to grow and the chicks fledge at 14 days. They continue to be tended by their parents for up to three weeks after fledging.

Severe winter weather can have a huge impact on the robin population. They can use up to 10% of their body weight during one cold winters night. In normal circumstances the fat reserves built up will keep it going for a few days, but if a cold spell continues into a second week it can be fatal for them unless they can find food, so having a bird table in your garden with mealworms or other fat source, will help.

Animal Facts

In Britain: All Year

Life Span: Only a couple of years, although the oldest known wild one was 11 years and 5 months.

Statistics: 12.5-14cm Long, Weighs 16-22g; Wingspan 20-22cm

Habitat: Across the UK in woodlands, hedgerows, parks and gardens.

Food: Worms, seeds, fruits and insects.

Breeding: Normally starts mid March, 4-6 eggs, incubation 13 days, young fledge at 14 days. They have two broods a year, sometimes more depending on the weather and food availability. They pair up only for the breeding season, generally once the young have fledged the males look after them, while the female goes off to start on her next brood.

Conservation Status

Least Concern

Distribution: Whole of the UK. There are said to be 6,700,000 territories.

Behaviour: They are aggressively territorial and hold their territory all year round. In the summer the breeding pair will defend their territory, during the winter months they each hold their own. Territory boundaries are fluid, and change frequently as circumstances change. The exact size of their territory depends on the quality of habitat and the density of birds. One of a few birds in the UK that sing all year round. Only for a short period in late summer while they are moulting and inconspicuous do they stop singing. Both Males and Females sing.

Conservation Status: Least Concern. Although mortality is high and its causes are many and varied the robin populations has increased by 45% since 1970.


See Also:

Wiki - European Robin

RSPB - The Robin

BBC Nature and Wildlife

British Garden Birds - The Robin


By: Tracey Park Section: Wildlife Section Key:
Page Ref: robin Topic: Wildlife & Animals  Last Updated: 12/2016

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