Star of the Season - Robin Redbreast


I found this article in an old copy of the Country Living magazine which I thought I would share with you, about robins, as they are very much a part of the Christmas season.
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"When we think of Christmas, we think of the robin.  Its association with this festive time of year is an essential part of British life.  There are five and a half million robins in the UK and it is one of our most common birds with numbers remaining fairly stable.  They were hit by the harsh winter last year but a good breeding season has enabled them to recover.  As a regular visitor to the winter bird table and with a liquid warbling song, it's not surprising that the robin's cheery presence and its reputation as a domestic bird have seen it become a symbol of Christmas.

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But there is another connection: with the very notion of postage and so, specifically, with Christmas cards.  In Framley Parsonage, Anthony Trollope refers to the 'robin postman' - he had worked in the Post Office in 1860 when postmen wore a red coat.  The red uniforms showed the dirt, however, so were changed to dark blue with red facings a year later.  The nickname presumably vanished soon afterwards but not before Christmas cards had become popular - and the colour remains on letter boxes and Royal Mail vans.

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The robin's place around the homestead, and in English literature, it seems, is due to the combination of mild winters and a kindness towards birds.  After a lengthy correspondence and poll in The Times in 1960, it was elected to the status of Britain's national bird.  There scarcely seems to have been a time when it wasn't.
Their willingness to nest almost anywhere, for instance, famously in an unmade bed and a gardener's jacket pocket (built between breakfast and lunch).  Their enjoyment of human company (there are many stories of robins that live in churches, and join in the singing).  Their loyalty, their lack of pretence, their bad-weather sturdiness.  There is a hint of moral approval in our love of the birds, even a sense that we glimpse our own imagined national characteristics in their behaviour: the robin - named probably after the friendly sprite Robin Goodfellow - as an avian John Bull, a flighted oak tree.

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The robin's eyes have a lot to do with it, those pert piercing beads, 'like black dewdrops' as Frances Hodgson Burnett describes them in The Secret Garden.  They are side-mounted like most birds, but in that classic robinesque cock of the head they seem to look directly as us.  We are caught in the frankness of that gaze, confronted by an unafraid, unthreatening being as we rarely are by any other creature.  No wonder we melt, and feel for a moment that we both live in the same one world."

Adapted from Redbreast:  The robin in life and literature by Andrew Lack.  This book is an updated and extended version of Robin Redbreast, originally published in 1950 by Andrew's father, eminent ornithologist David Lack. amazon

On Christmas day I sit and think
Thoughts white as snow and black as ink
My nearest kinsman, turned a knave,
Robbed me of all that I could save.
When he was gone, and I was poor,
His sister yelped me from her door.

The Robin sings his Christmas song.
And no bird has a sweeter tongue.
God bless them all - my wife so true,
And pretty Robin Redbreast too.
God bless my kinsman far away,
And give his sister joy this day.

W.H.Davies from A Poets Calender (1927)

All the above taken from a Country Living article December 2010

Comments

  1. What a treat this post was to read. Such beautiful pictures and poems, and a lot of info I didn't know, about the postman for instance.

    Robins also are the only British bird that sing all year round, to hold their territory, I love to hear their varied song throughout the winter, a lovely little bird!xxxxx

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    1. I love the song of a robin - I can't always see them - but know they are there.

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  2. What a lovely post. I do miss the robin as they are not in New Zealand. I can never bring myself to throw Robin Christmas cards away and now have many of them on my sideboard.

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    1. They are just so traditional on Christmas cards aren't they - I must admit to having a fondness for them too.

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  3. Love that a robin nested in a hung up jacket. I shall have to be careful where I hang mine. One has been keeping me company (and making me laugh) while wood cutting these past few days. Dave

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    1. Such curious little birds - although I have seen a lot of fighting between two in my garden lately - very territorial, I think.

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  4. Absolutely wonderful, thank you! Suzy x

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the article - I did too, and learned some things I didn't know before.

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  5. British robins are so sweet, and I remember during my childhood in England, finding robins nests in the laurel bushes and seeing their tiny little blue eggs. Thanks for sharing the article you came across ~ it is a treasure of information and delight.

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    1. You sometimes come across broken egg shells under the nests - they are such a lovely colour blue.

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  6. What a delightful post, and wonderful pictures!
    You know that I love robins, and my days are incomplete if I don't see, or hear, one. Flighty xx

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    1. I agree with you - I love to hear them sing especially when I am working in the garden.

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  7. What an interesting and lovely story, poems and pictures about the robin. At this time of year they are always around us in the garden and even come on the verandah. They are fond of oats.

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    1. I have never put oats down for the birds - maybe if I did I would get even more robins to come and visit.

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  8. Isn't it lovely... the little robin in the garden. I think every garden has a robin.

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    1. The garden wouldn't be the same without them Kelli

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    2. I have tried to comment on your blog but the comment box has disappeared - did you know?

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  9. Have I told you that I love your English countryside photos? I don't know which one l like the best. I am drawn to the sheep, but l like the horse, too, and then there are country fields. We have have robins here too, but they are a different bird. I'll have top post a photo of the American Robin. It is a larger bird, the size of grackle--if you have grackles. They are a sure sign of spring, but we do have some that winter over. I'll try to get a photo of one for you to see. I love your post on the little bird and remember seeing then when I visited England; I think I even took a picture of one. Merry Christmas.

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    1. No Ann we don't have grackles and yes I know you love English countryside photos maybe one day you will pay a return visit then you can take lots more photos to drool over. Merry Christmas to you too.

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  10. I have a robin as a constant companion in the garden here, wonderful birds, they always seem to be friendly and curious.

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  11. "In 1949 our village church became national news when a robin made its nest in the lectern and daily bulletins were broadcast after the Six o'clock News on the "Home Service". A full account was subsequently published in the London Illustrated News and the East Anglian Magazine, and is remembered by several robin motifs in the church." (taken from church website) Like Ann all I see now are the American Robin. Lovely birds but not as sociable as the English robin.

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  12. In 1949 our village church became national news when a robin made its nest in the lectern and daily bulletins were broadcast after the Six o'clock News on the "Home Service". A full account was subsequently published in the London Illustrated News and the East Anglian Magazine, and is remembered by several robin motifs in the church.

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